Government figures show that 160.03 million Americans used chewing gum or bubble gum in 2020. That’s slightly less than half of all Americans, and the average gum chewer consumed 300 pieces of gum in one year.
So it might be a surprise that chewing gum contains plastic. The ingredient know as “gum base” in the list of ingredients in chewing gum is largely made of polyvinyl acetate.
Is chewing gum base safe?
New Food Magazine asked the Food and Drug Administration and received a statement on the safety of the plastic used in chewing gum.
“The FDA has evaluated the safety of many substances used to make up chewing gum base,” the FDA spokesperson said. “The 46 substances that we have reviewed and determined to be safe for this use can be found in our regulations.”
The list of acceptable substances includes chicle and natural resins as well as plastics and wood rosins.
“We have reviewed the safety of chewing gum base constituents many times since at least 1960 when we received a food additive petition for ingredients in chewing gum base. Even before that, we evaluated the safety of other chewing gum base ingredients on a case-by-case basis. Our most recent formal evaluation closed in April 2020. We evaluated the safety of each substance, often multiple times as new data became available. The kinds of studies we reviewed were typical for any food ingredient, for example: studies of test animals fed large amounts of a substance over a long period of time; studies to determine whether an ingredient could cause cancer; and studies to develop very sensitive methods to monitor for contaminants.”
“We also reviewed studies that are more unique to substances like chewing gum bases. For example, some studies used simulated saliva and/or chewing to measure components of the chewing gum base that could dissolve out of the gum and into the saliva. We also evaluated the safety of any substances that were found to migrate out of the gum. As with any food ingredient, we revisit the safety of the use of an ingredient as appropriate when new safety information becomes available.”
In other words, the FDA considers these plastics safe for user in chewing gum.
Is this the main source of plastic in our diets?
Even people who don’t chew gum are probably ingesting some microplastics. Only about 10% of plastic gets recycled, and the remaining plastic breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics which contaminate our food and water. Microplastic particles probably also reach our food from plastic packaging, plastic dishes used in microwaves, and other sources.
Chewing gum may be the only food which intentionally contains plastic, but it may not be the top source of the plastic that is showing up in human bodies and waste.
There are brands of chewing gum which do not contain plastic, but there is currently no evidence that chewing gum base is harmful.