Is there Paint Thinner (Trisodium Phosphate) in Cereal?

Have you heard that there might be Trisodium Phosphate in Cereal or in other foods? So is this a problem?

As it turns out TSP (Trisodium phosphate) is in many products. The question is--should you be worried or is it no big deal?

Trisodium Phosphate in Cereal | Trisodium Phosphate in Food

Trisodium Phosphate.

What's that, you ask? Let's find out.

Just the other day, one of my friends tagged me in a Facebook video that REALLY caught my attention.

The video was of a guy walking through the store talking about how there is paint thinner in Cereal!

Yes, he meant it.  He was pointing to the ingredients list on a cereal box and showing where it listed "TSP" or "Trisodium Phosphate" as an ingredient, and then he walked over another section of the store and showed how TSP is paint thinner.

YIKES! Paint thinner in cereal?

It sounds like one of those crazy alarmist conspiracy stories about how the government and big corporations are out to kill us by gradually poisoning us to death, doesn't it?

Well, I'm here to tell you the truth about yet another theory....that there is trisodium phosphate in cereal.

I Love (as in LOVE) Breakfast Cereal

Make that "loved."

First of all, let me tell you that I used to LOVE breakfast cereal.

I was so broke when I was in college. I literally lived off of almost no money and always shopped off of the bargain produce shelves and just made do. Whenever I would come home on break, it was just amazing being able to go into the kitchen and eat all kinds of things I couldn't afford when I was in school.

And a big part of that was--cereal!

I would run to the kitchen and indulge in whatever was there, but I ALWAYS (much to my mother's chagrin) made a bee line for the breakfast cereal.

And I ate a lot of it.

But since then, times have changed. I've had to revamp my diet (and my family's diet too) due to issues with candida and other gut health issues, and so now breakfast cereal isn't in our home any longer--with very few exceptions.

I guess I really do still LOVE breakfast cereal, but it doesn't love me back.

Even if you don't eat breakfast cereal, and have moved on to healthier choices like this Cream of Rice Cereal or Buckwheat Granola...or even something like this Dairy-free Quiche), or if you are eating more natural versions, this is about more than just breakfast cereal.  

Read on.

Pinterest collage for Is there paint thinner in your cereal? post

Paint Thinner / Trisodium Phosphate in Cereal

TSP is Trisodium Phosphate.

And you can find it in some breakfast cereals.

It's something that the FDA has approved to be used in your food.

Because you might just be getting more than a little. And who wants a lot of Trisodium Phosphate in their cereal? Not this girl. No thank you.

So let's walk through this step by step.

What is TSP / Trisodium Phosphate?

Is TSP paint thinner?

Well contrary to what  the guy in the grocery store in the video that I saw said, it's not--but it is an active ingredient in paint thinner.

Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is an industrial cleaning product. It's used as a degreasing agent, mildew remover and lead abating agent and is also used to clean interior and exterior walls before painting. According to Snopes (I write about them later, its pH is"comparable to bleach".

YUCK.

Maybe I should retitle this post "Is There BLEACH in Your CEREAL?!"

Because of its alkalinizing cleaning properties, TSP was used in dishwashing soap and laundry detergent until it was phased out in 2011 after the EPA found it was harmful to the environment. The Clean Water Act, published by the EPA, lists TSP as a “Hazardous Substance” while the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends to “Avoid All Contact.” (note the link that I had for this information has been removed from the CDC's site--I can't find it any longer.) The CDC lists these TSP ingestion symptoms: abdominal pain, burning sensation, shock, or collapse.

Doesn't sound too good.

Let's dig into this more.

Why is there Trisodium Phosphate in Food?

TSP is most commonly used to reduce the acidic nature of foods, especially breakfast cereals, as it modifies cereal color and aids in the cereal’s flow through the extruder. Other uses are:

  • Added to meat to retain moisture during storage and cooking.
  • Acts as a leavening agent to “fluff up” foods like cakes, breads and baked goods.
  • Added to cheese to help keep its shape and melting properties.

TSP is also used as an antimicrobial cleaner for washing produce. Poultry is dipped in a TSP solution to potentially kill off bacteria.

Basically, TSP gives food a nice texture so it can withstand sitting on the grocery store shelf for months until you pick it up and take it home.

That's one reason to not buy food that can sit on the shelf for a long long time and still look great.  Food shouldn't be able to do that, you know?

Should You Avoid Trisodium Phosphate in Food?

Studies have shown that ingesting high levels of phosphate (the major mineral in TSP) can cause:

  • kidney damage
  • soft tissue calcification and
  • removal of calcium from bones.
  • Chronic high levels of phosphate intake can result in osteopenia and ultimately osteoporosis.
  • TSP also irritates the stomach and intestinal lining as well as reduces lactic acid in muscles.

I, for one, do not want kidney damage, soft tissue calcification, removal of calcium from my bones (hello osteoporosis?!?!?), or irritated stomach and intestinal lining.

But how much is too much?

And is there a too much???

What Foods Commonly Contain TSP?

Breakfast cereals seem to be the products that most commonly contain TSP. However, you may also see Sodium Phosphate, Disodium Phosphate or Tripotassium Phosphate on the label instead of just the typical Trisodium Phosphate.

These also can cause the same health problems as TSP so you really need to keep your eyes open.

So many products might contain TSP. Here's a list of common offenders.

Breakfast Cereals*

Lunchmeat

Ham

Other processed meats

Processed cheese

Cheese sauces

Rice syrup

Canned soups

Cake mixes

Bread

Pizza dough

Other baked goods

Toothpastes for adults, kids and babies

Mouthwash

Hair coloring and bleaching products

* Some cereals have either trisodium or tripotassium phosphate (TPP). TPP is just as harmful as TSP.

Note--the items on these lists are ALL processed foods.  So if you are eating a whole foods diet, then you shouldn't be ingesting that much paint thinner :).

HOWEVER, note that there are some personal care products on the list as well.

It's SO important to not only think about what you are eating, but what you are putting on your body.

These posts on Heavy Metals in Cosmetics and Haircare Ingredients to Avoid and the Dangers of Fragrances show that there is way more than just TSP and TPP to worry about when it comes to toxins in your personal care products.

How Much TSP is Safe In Food?

There is a lot of conflicting information about what a "safe" level of TSP is in food. Some say that the FDA says that 70 mg of TSP is the most TSP that one should ingest per day.

Then other articles state that the FDA has approved 70 mg/kg of body weight as the maximum tolerable limit of TSP that a person should ingest per day. (For a 150 lb person, this translates to 4,772 mg/day).

So that's a lot of TSP.

Actually, the precise amount of TSP in cereal isn’t known, but the FDA does say that it's safe enough for manufacturers to decide on their own. 

I think it's up to you. Personally would prefer to just not eat this. That doesn't mean that I think it's really dangerous, but I prefer to eat as little additives as possible.

With all of the sources of Trisodium Phosphate in food, if you are eating a lot of processed food and using conventional personal care products, you have no idea if we’re ingesting more than the maximum tolerable limit. So just to be safe, you might want to stay away from all foods containing TSP.

Toxicity Burden

It's important to remember that the toxic burden on our bodies isn't just about one ingredient.

When thinking about the toxic load that these products have on our bodies, you need to think about them in conjunction with each other. You are not JUST eating TSP, you are eating TSP, BHT, and arsenic, while you are spraying artificial fragrance on your body and washing your clothes in it.

It all adds up to a toxic burden that can cause all kinds of health problems.

Snopes' Take on Trisodium Phosphate in Cereal

Likely you are familiar with Snopes. Snopes writes posts on all kinds of things from political issues, historical events, and even, yes--paint thinner in cereal.

If you're looking on the internet to see if Trisodium Phosphate in Breakfast Cereal is a big deal or not, you will find that Snopes says--No. Trisodium Phosphate in Breakfast Cereal is just no biggie.

They acknowledge that TSP is used as a paint thinner but they claim that just because something is used for something that seems caustic like thinning paint, doesn't mean it's toxic. They then compare TSP to sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), stating that if you're OK eating baking soda (and most of us are), then you should be OK eating TSP.

One problem with this thinking is that baking soda and TSP are not the same thing and one of them is more dangerous than the other. (sources: 1, 2)

Snopes does say that TSP's pH is like bleach. So just because they rank the paint thinner claim as false (and it very well might be), that doesn't mean that I want this in my cereal.

Update on Health Concerns about Trisodium Phosphate in Foods

Since the publication of this post, some readers have commented about how nonsensical my concerns were, even though I did state that I wasn't that concerned about the toxicity of this product.  However, this has pushed me to do more research and as such, I am now more concerned than ever about this additive.

Kidney Health and Trisodium Phosphate

If you have normal kidneys, they can remove excess phosphorous from your body. However, if you have compromised kidney health, then you should consider monitoring and restricting the amount of phosphates in your diet, and that would include trisodium phosphate.

Extra phosphorus can pull calcium out of your bones and consequently high phosphorus and calcium levels can lead to dangerous calcium deposits in your body, including in your blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heart. (source)

Bone Health and Trisodium Phosphate

As noted above, too much phosphorous in your diet can lead to calcium being leached out of your bones. So it would follow that this could be a huge health problem. How much is too much is the problem and it also depends on kidney health for the reasons described above.  You can read more about trisodium phosphate and bone health concerns here.

Conclusion

Even if we all agree that TSP is FINE (and I'm not so sure that it is), most cereals and processed foods are still NOT fine in my book.

Most breakfast cereals are full of:

sugar
white flour of some sort
preservatives (some even have that uber toxic, cancer-causing BHA and BHT in them. Just no thanks.)

And it's all extruded at very high pressure to make cute shapes ala Lucky Charms, Froot Loops, Cocoa Puffs, etc. Fun to eat, but there is damage done to the grains at those high temperatures and pressures so that they cause lots of inflammation in you when you eat them.

Yes, Cheerios (or, fill in the blank with any other traditional breakfast cereal) are JUNK!

And processed foods are basically almost all in the same camp. Doesn't mean we don't occasionally enjoy some organic crackers or chips, etc., but that is for sure the exception and not the rule.

While this TSP in cereal | TSP in food maybe isn't a BIG issue, it's an issue.

Since I wasn't able to find real documentation anywhere about how much Trisodium Phosphate in food is really supposed to be OK to ingest, I think it might be best to avoid it.

I'd love to hear what you think about it!

Trisodium Phosphate in Cereal | Trisodium Phosphate in Food

Did you know that there was Trisodium Phosphate in cereal?
What do you think about that?

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100 Comments

  1. Excellent research and information. You asked all the questions I would have asked and put them together in an easy to read format. Thank you.

  2. TSP is used on oat crops to help “kill” the enemies (insects & rodents). They prey on the crops and if not controlled, the crops would not flourish as they do. TSP is sprayed on the oats leaves in hopes of controlling the “enemy”.

  3. I don't traditionally comment on blogs, but for what its worth we did a "at home" experience with this. My two boys love Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which does include TSP in their ingredients. For 3 months my kids switched too a similar cereal that still contained sugar, flour etc. The normal everyday ingredients in sugary cereal. However, it did not contain TSP. There were no other changes in their diets. After 3 months they tried to eat a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, both my kids stomachs started to hurt with cramps so bad that they were hunched over on the bathroom toilet. Crying for help. At first I thought maybe it was a one time situation. We tried the same experiment again. Same thing happened. I truly believe that the chemical TSP that is put into cereal and cheese is causing more harm then what is lead on. Our bodies grow custom to it, but when you remove the chemical for a long period of time and try to add it back in your life your body rejects it.

    1. What? That is crazy!!! I have no idea what that could be but very strange. Did you contact the company to report this? I hope nothing was wrong w/ the cereal besides what you think! I would think the TSP couldn't be it, but that is very odd for sure.

  4. TSP in it's pure form, diluted and in small amounts works to restore bone and teeth. Used properly it is helpful. But, as with all things, it was added to everything and not always in proper combinations. Anyone with a compromised immune system or chronic health issue should always limit high consumption of any supplement.

    1. Thanks for this comment. What I am reading is that it is to be used as a mouth rinse and not to be ingested. Looks like it's another form of phosphate that is used internally as a dietary supplement. Actually there are a lot of people who should be careful (anyone really) about taking too much of any supplement--that's a good reminder for all of us!

  5. Thank you for your research and for posting. FYI. I wouldn’t concern myself with the sheep that comment ; it’s pointless to even respond to idiocy. They still believe that “Milk does a body good”. Lol. Keep doing your work!

    1. That really isn't a nice thing to say at all. Could you instead tell me what you disagree with in the post? Thank you. Please refrain from using expletives on my site in the future.

    2. What part is retarded? The part that warns people of potentially life harming chemicals added to foods or the part that TSP is used to kill insects, therefore it could harm people too? We are all carbon based life forms, so why is that so absurd? I think its trolls like you Isaac, that are truly retarded, as you are the one who thinks retarded to begin with. Nice proof of being nothing but a troll. Enjoy your personally toxic hell.

  6. My wife found info somewhere that said that one of the side effects was a tingling in the feet like diabetic retinopathy. I had this symptom and I ate cheerios by the bowlful. I stopped eating them immediately and the tingling in my feet subsided in 4 days and was completely gone in 3-4 weeks.

    1. Oh my Lord! That is really scary to Me! No wonder people get all kinds of cancer & other terrible diseases!!

    1. Hi there and thanks for reading.

      Yes I read that and cited it in the post above. What part of the post do you not think it founded in science?

  7. It’s not a paint thinner, it is an industrial use pre-paint cleaner. And TSP was banned for cleaning because of its health risks. I am a painter, I know how bad it is and I will avoid it as much as possible. Please reconsider if you think eating this is no big deal.

  8. *E*P*I*C* FAIL!!!!!!! This FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) is so full of BS that...well, it reeks!

    First, PAINT THINNER?!? ZOMG! TSP is Na3PO4 the **SALT** of phosphoric acid! It's a SOLID! How is it supposed to thin ANYTHING? Real paint thinners are non-polar solvents like gasoline, nail polish remover, etc.

    Know what else has phosphates? Try your bones, teeth, fertilizer (the 2nd of the 3 numbers is PHOSPHATE). If it TSP "removes" calcium from your bones then you're not getting enough calcium in the first place and you have bigger problems.

    Anyone who trusts you guys deserves what they get!

    1. Hi Mike. You must not have read the post. I shared that trisodium phosphate wasn't paint thinner and explained that in the post.
      In actuality, TSP is mentioned in several articles on health as something that should be limited for those concerned with osteoporosis, osteopenia, and kidney issues. Thanks for commenting. I'm going to add all of this information to my post now as I didn't see it earlier :).

      Here's one such article that I will be citing: https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/phosphorus

    2. With all the CRAP going on today I disagree with you. And either way, by NOT eating this crap is good for you and that is a good long life.. Go take another booster. You will feel better...

  9. I'm not addressing whether TSP is harmful to ingest. However, if it is, the reason is not because it has the same pH as bleach. Milk of Magnesia, for instance, is also similarly alkaline. The pH level of an ingredient is not what determines its toxicity.

  10. I’m with you on tsp, and any other additive! None is good for us and add GMO as well. I find it peculiar that US is the worst for all of the above...

  11. Its a shame that for so long time so many of us had no clue of the battle that we were born into. There is a prince ruling over most of the wickedness( meaning ungodly acts that are taking place in this realm. How is he doing this you may ask? By corrupting and twisting the very things given unto man to help them prosper and using it against them. It’s no coincidence that the same people over the FDA has control over the use of GMOS. Even in the medical field just check out the symbol. Is it not a snake rapped around what looks like a stick, rod, or staff. Thanks for the information and I will make the proper adjustments to insure a long life.

  12. I think something should be done about this and they should be punished by the law of the land because it's no telling what else is out there killing the population blacks and whites so I feel like that it should be research even chewing gum is causing cancer chewing it throughout the years they need to take the stuff off the shelf

  13. Thank you so very much for this article. We have tried eating healthy foods for years and every tidbit of information about food hazards are a welcome sight for me. Thank you again.

  14. Very good info,also note yoothpaste all brands except pepsodent have high levels of metal! Which has shown up as a grey cell detriment. Only pepsodent is made in usa all others outside with no regulations.

    1. Hello there - oh no-- what happened? Please do let me know. There is an area under each ad that you can click on to report a problem. I will mentio this to my ad people but it might be hard to remedy w/o more information. Thanks for reading!

  15. Yes i! Thank it's bad for that type of shut to be in are good and it needs to be addressed out loud so ea ve r one knows

  16. Cereals are bad. As Adrienne pointed out, they include too many bad things that in combination could have bad effects on you. So they're not worth it. People eat cereals simply because they've been conditioned to do so. It's a cultural habit. Back in the day when there weren't as many preservatives and chemicals, cereals were a good way to start your day. Not anymore. Now they will put the most toxic of 'things' in your food and lie to you that they're totally harmless.

    I admit I used to eat cereals but not because they were particularly tasty. It was just something I used to do.

    By the way Adrienne, I don't mean to go off on a tangent but the folks at Monsanto have been ordered to pay over a quarter of a billion dollars as compensation for the toxic side effects one of their glyphosate-based weed killers (Roundup) has had on a regular customer. In my opinion this new ruling pretty much proves (assuming it hasn't already been proven) that SNOPES, the Internet's self-appointed fact checker, has been lying and spinning the truth about glyphosate/Roundup.

    In a previous post I left a link to an article exposing SNOPES' obvious bias in their so-called fact checking. They were caught several times revising an article in which the dangers of glyphosate were being downplayed. SNOPES' kept editing it and changing the narrative in order to defend the article's initial conclusion. As a result of these multiple revisions, there are multiple versions of that article. Now, a new court ruling kind of indicates that glyphosate actually IS dangerous, which would inevitably prove that the folks at SNOPES have been misrepresenting the facts (e.g. manipulating us) and raises the following question: who can you trust to give you the true facts about the food you're eating?

    My suggestion: if your gut tells you it's bad, roll with your gut.

    1. Thanks for commenting and yes, I know about glyphosate. So sorry I didn't respond sooner--we lost the comments here for awhile and got them back only recently so I'm trying to catch up :).