03-30-17 Why is trisodium phosphate in my cereal and is it dangerous to my health?

Toxicology Question of the Week

March 30, 2017

Why is trisodium phosphate in my cereal and is it dangerous to my health?

Recently, the Tennessee Poison Center has received numerous calls from the public about why their popular brand of cereal (e.g. Cinnamon Toast Crunch) contains a poisonous chemical called trisodium phosphate. Callers had read on the internet or heard by word of mouth that trisodium phosphate is a highly toxic industrial strength cleaner, and they were worried about their children eating it.

Food-grade trisodium phosphate is often used as a leavening agent for baked goods, an emulsifier for processed cheese, a flavorant for certain beverages, and to control the pH of processed foods.

Concern over the chemical appeared late 2014 as an image of the Lucky Charms ingredients panel alongside a bottle of trisodium phosphate heavy duty cleaner began circulating the internet. Various websites began to comment on the ingredient and called for readers to tell the FDA to remove it.

Trisodium phosphate is a very effective cleaning agent and sufficiently alkaline (pH 12 for a 1% solution) to remove grease and oils from surfaces, as well as cause significant chemical burns when in contact with human skin. However, the amount of trisodium phosphate in cereal and other food products is tiny and poses no harm to consumer. It is considered “generally recognized as safe” by the U.S. FDA.


  1. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. (2006 April 1). Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21, Chapter 1, Subchapter B, Part 182 – Substances Generally Recognized As Safe.
  2. Lampila LE. Applications and functions of food-grade phosphates. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2013 Oct; 1301:37-44.

This Question prepared by:  Justin Loden, PharmD, CSPI

I am interested in any questions you would like answered in the Question of the Week.  Please email me with any suggestion at donna.seger@vanderbilt.edu

Donna Seger, MD

Medical Director

Tennessee Poison Center


Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222

The Question of the Week is available on our website: www.tnpoisoncenter.org