Mars Inc. has been sued by a consumer who claims Skittles candies are unsafe to eat because they contain a known toxin that the company pledged to phase out six years ago.
In a class action lawsuit filed Thursday in Oakland, California, in federal court, Jenile Thames accused Mars of endangering unsuspecting Skittles consumers by using “elevated levels” of titanium dioxide, or TiO2, as a food additive.
The suit also says titanium dioxide will be banned in the European Union next month after a food safety regulator deemed it unsafe due to “genotoxicity,” or the ability to change DNA.
“A reasonable consumer would expect [Skittles] it can be bought and consumed safely as it is marketed and sold,” the complaint says. “However, the products are not safe.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for fraud and violations of California consumer protection laws.
Mars did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
The McLean, Virginia-based private company made a commitment in February 2016 to remove artificial colors from its food products over the next five years.
In October 2016, it confirmed that titanium dioxide was among the colorants being removed, according to the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, citing an email from Mars.
According to the lawsuit, titanium dioxide is used in paints, adhesives, plastics and roofing materials, and can cause DNA, brain and organ damage, as well as liver and kidney damage.
Thames, of San Leandro, California, said he bought Skittles at a local QuikStop in April and wouldn’t have if he’d known what was inside.
He said checking the label wouldn’t have helped because the ingredients on Skittles’ bright red packages are hard to read.
The case is Thames v. Mars Inc., US District Court, Northern District of California, No. 22-04145.