Unlabeled propylene glycol, a form of antifreeze, lurks in commercial ice cream, risking health issues for those that consume it.
One thing I try to do on this site is alert folks to the sneaky, underhanded, and frequently toxic chemicals that Big Food processors add to their products.
One of these dirty little secrets is the fact that propylene glycol, a cosmetic form of antifreeze, is added to commercial ice cream. (1)
You see, when you make ice cream at home, you immediately notice that it is as hard as a rock.
This is VERY unlike store ice creams (even the organic ones) that seem to scoop out of the container so conveniently.
Homemade ice cream has to be taken out of the freezer and softened on the counter for a few minutes before you have any hope of scooping some out into a bowl.
I even store mine in a shallow, Pyrex baking dish as this makes it much easier and faster to scoop out when I want some.
Antifreeze, then, is simply ice cream manufacturers’ answer to hard as a rock ice cream and the ice crystals that inevitably form as it is shipped long distances and moved between many different freezers before it finally makes it to your supermarket.
If you’ve ever left homemade ice cream on the counter too long and then put it back in the freezer, you notice how icy it can get.
Antifreeze added to store ice cream helps prevent this from happening!
Why is Antifreeze Not Listed in Ingredients?
Sometimes when I tell folks this for the first time, they have trouble believing it. Why?
Because propylene glycol isn’t listed anywhere on the ice cream label or ingredients list.
While it may come as a shock to some of you, there is such a thing as an “Industry Standard”.
This means that if everyone does it, you don’t have to label it!
For those who need specifics, USDA reg 21 CFR 101.100 deals with labeling exemptions dealing with incidental food additives.
Where I grew up, this was called deceit.
Just because commercial ice cream manufacturers make a practice of adding a little bit of antifreeze to their ice cream, then it doesn’t have to be labeled! (2)
What About Organic?
I don’t even trust organic ice cream brands. It is way too easy to scoop out of the container straight from the freezer for my comfort level.
My efforts to confirm this one way or the other were not successful, so at this time, it is only a very strong hunch.
Just to get you a little more hot under the collar, the FDA actually had the gall to grant GRAS status to antifreeze!
What is GRAS? It is an acronym for “Generally Recognized As Safe”.
Well, isn’t that interesting? Antifreeze is safe to eat! You learn something new every day!
Wait a minute! Antifreeze safe to eat, yet a dog would probably die if a car radiator leaks in his owner’s driveway and he laps some of it up?
Ok, ok…I know that the antifreeze used in radiators is ethylene glycol (EG). However, the fact is that propylene glycol (PG) is a closely related chemical.
Studies show that it causes heart, kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage if sufficient quantity is absorbed by the body.
Propylene Glycol Contamination
In addition, depending on the manufacturing process used, propylene glycol may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies ethylene oxide as a known human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane as a possible human carcinogen.
Ethylene oxide can also harm the nervous system, and evidence has shown that it may interfere with human development.
Americans eat approximately 5X the ice cream they did 50 years ago. Hence, it is anyone’s guess what the long-term effects of frequent consumption of small amounts of PG might be.
So, ethylene glycol will kill you quickly and propylene glycol will kill you slowly and perhaps painfully. That seems to be the gist of it to me.
Beware of maple syrup too. If it isn’t labeled organic, chances are propylene glycol was used in the production process as well.
Side Effects of Eating Antifreeze
Many people might wonder why whenever you eat commercial ice cream or devour an ice cream cone at the Mall, the next day you might seem to have a very close relationship to the bathroom.
Turns out that a side effect of consuming antifreeze is loose bowels, even diarrhea.
Propylene glycol is even used to clean out the bowel before surgery and for conventional colonoscopy preparation.
It is also a primary ingredient in some over-the-counter constipation meds!
Other Unlabeled Toxins
By the way, there are MANY other chemicals added to commercial ice cream that are toxic and unlabeled.
Piperonal, for example, is used in place of vanilla and is a chemical used to kill head lice.
So, you’re not even safe getting a basic flavor like plain vanilla ice cream! (3)
Watch out for so-called “premium” ice creams like Jack Nicklaus Ice cream. Even the ludicrously named “Homemade Vanilla” has zero vanilla actually in it. You get to pay extra for …. chemicals!
What if the ingredients label lists vanilla?
Does this mean there is no piperonal in there? Not necessarily.
A mixture of piperonal and vanilla could be used with the vanilla listed (to make the customer happy) and the piperonal not listed (to fool the customer and increase profits).
Not surprisingly, piperonal is cheaper to use than vanilla.
Food manufacturers are really good at cat and mouse games and are virtuosos at playing the USDA regulations.
Are Any Brands Safe?
I recently received an email about this post that inquired as to whether ANY brands of commercial ice cream are safe.
My reply was to examine the ice cream brand you like. Is it scoopable very quickly (immediately or within a few minutes) of removing from the freezer?
If so, it almost certainly contains unlabeled propylene glycol. Even organic brands are suspiciously scoopable. But, they can add unlabeled PG too since the FDA inexplicably granted this chemical GRAS status.
I personally have not found ANY brand that is as hard as homemade. This is my test of purity.
The only exception is the locally made ice cream from my grassfed farmer. It is hard as a rock just like the ice cream I make myself.
How to Naturally Soften Ice Cream
So, if you aren’t into eating antifreeze with your ice cream, check out my recipe plus a video demonstration on how to make healthy ice cream!
It uses a very small amount of vodka to keep the ice cream naturally and safely scoopable!
(1, 2) Foods & Drinks With Propylene Glycol
(3) Harmful Chemicals Turn Ice Cream From a Treat to a Threat
So let’s sue the US government and every ice cream co we can speak of. If nothing else we may get rich.
I’ve been making homemade ice cream for my kids and now grandkids for decades now and used many different recipes and machines. I now use the Cuisinart soft serve ice cream maker. The leftover ice cream, if there is any, freezes very nicely and is perfectly scoopable! Yay!
I sent your article to Rebel Creamery who uses propylene glycol in their ice cream. This is the response I received from Rebel which is very thorough and spreads more light on the subject:
“Makes sense! I think the article is exaggerating manufacturer intent, at least in most cases. If it’s a tiny amount used as part of or for carrying a natural flavor, it’s both incidental and insignificant, and therefore doesn’t need to be listed as an ingredient. However, if being used as an added ingredient to soften ice cream, it’s no longer incidental or insignificant. We actually do this with vegetable glycerin, a natural glycerol/sugar alcohol derived from palm fruit. Sugar free ice cream is extremely hard, so we add vegetable glycerin to help soften it. It’s effectively an “antifreeze” product in that sense, much like any alcohol is. In fact, glycerol has been used as antifreeze in the past for automotive purposes, though not any longer since ethylene glycol is a cheaper and more effective automotive antifreeze.
Many homemade ice cream recipes call for vodka for this purpose; vodka doesn’t freeze until -17°F, due to its ethanol content. Drinking large quantities of vodka can be harmful, just like propylene glycol. Calling PG “antifreeze” is true, but also a little misleading to consumers.
The glycerol/glycerin we use is the exact same structure of the glycerol that is naturally produced in the body during ketosis, when the body metabolizes stored body fat for energy.
From the FDA’s code of regulations: “Incidental additives that are present in a food at insignificant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in that food. For the purposes of this paragraph (a)(3), incidental additives are:
(i) Substances that have no technical or functional effect but are present in a food by reason of having been incorporated into the food as an ingredient of another food, in which the substance did have a functional or technical effect.”
Thanks for sharing Monica! “Insignificant levels” is a common excuse used by food manufacturers. Where have we heard of that before? M-A-N-Y places such as the use of small amounts of MSG etc where “insignificant” turned out to be health-altering. Thanks for playing Rebel Creamery. Won’t be buying your products! You clearly prioritize profits ahead of consumer well being.
…..However, you will have to provide a direct link to this company, because the only company I can find under this name is an absolutely horrifying company which uses industrial milk, and even literally uses artificial sweeteners and “milk protein isolate”. So it couldn’t possibly be that company if you are bothering to mention them at all.