Luster dust cake decoration poisoned 7 children in 2 states



One of the cakes decorated with “shiny dust” that contains toxic metals that poisoned children in Missouri and Rhode Island from 2018 to 2019, according to a CDC study.


No one cares about a little sparkle on their birthday cake, but federal health officials warn that “not all sprinkles are created.”

Following reports of heavy metal poisoning in Missouri and Rhode Island in children who attended birthdays, health investigators learned the illnesses were linked to “shiny dust,” a decoration of cake used to give baked goods a shimmering appearance.

Seven children aged 1 to 11 were poisoned by the additives, which contained high levels of copper, lead and other metals. They had vomiting and diarrhea within 10 hours of eating the cake; a child had to go to the emergency room for treatment, according to findings published Oct. 29 in the CDC’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report”.

The culprit containers of chandelier dust in both states have been labeled as “non-toxic.” But that doesn’t mean the product is safe for consumption, the CDC said. These luster dusts are supposed to be eliminated before consumption.

Glossy dusts that are safe to consume are required by law to include a list of ingredients on the label, but health officials note that those labels should be made clearer.

“Explicit labeling indicating that inedible products are not safe for human consumption is necessary to prevent unintentional disease and poisoning,” the CDC said.

Missouri poisoning case

A one-year-old from Missouri was poisoned in 2019 when he ate “primrose petal dust” painted on decorative flowers from a homemade birthday cake.

The product was labeled as “non-toxic” and was sold by a Florida cake decorating company who marketed it as “a non-toxic color for decorating baked goods.”

The dust contained 25% lead, a metal particularly dangerous for young children whose bodies absorb it easily. Lead can affect the development of the brain and nervous system in children.

The Missouri birthday cake with flowers in icing tinted with primrose petal powder used for cake decorating. Missouri Department of Health and Seniors Services

Poisoning case in Rhode Island

Six children, aged 1 to 11, who attended the same birthday party in 2018 fell ill after eating a cake decorated with ‘rose gold dust’ ordered from a local bakery.

An investigation into the bakery revealed that the product was labeled as “inedible, non-toxic and for decoration only”. In an attempt to find the original source of the luster dust, health authorities found an importer who revealed that the product was a “fine copper powder” intended for use as a metallic pigment for other products, such as than flooring, according to the report.

The Rhode Island Department of Health has discovered other products for sale in the bakery covered in the same shiny dust, including chocolate lollipops and chocolate-coated pretzels. Further analysis of 28 other inedible luster dust products in the bakery revealed high levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, nickel and zinc.

Other bakeries in the area also had “widespread use” of inedible shiny dust on their food products.

The Rhode Island Birthday Cake with Rose Gold Powder Frosting, a bottle of gold powder used for cake decorating, and industrial kegs containing fine copper powder. Rhode Island Department of Health

This story was originally published October 29, 2021 10:54 a.m.

Kansas City Star Stories

Katie Camero is a McClatchy National Real-Time Science reporter. She is a Boston University alumnus and has reported for the Wall Street Journal, Science, and The Boston Globe.

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