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Trisodium Phosphate

Genobia Simpson

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“The thing that bugs me is that the people think the FDA is protecting them—it isn’t. What the FDA is doing and what the public thinks it’s doing are as different as night and day.”

— Herbert Leonard Ley Jr.
(former commissioner of the FDA)


There has been a great deal of controversy regarding trisodium phosphate (TSP). Several independent sources have indicated the dangers of adding this alkali cleaning compound to food, but a handful of “authoritative” agencies have rebutted such claims. The countering argument, however, is in grave denial of the blatantly-incriminating evidence against TSP as a food additive.


What is Trisodium Phosphate?

Trisodium phosphate, otherwise commonly known as sodium phosphate tribasic, is an inorganic, water-soluble and highly-alkaline compound generally produced and made available in anhydrous (dry) granular or crystalline form. Occasionally, retailers may package it partially hydrated (dodecahydrate) and label it trisodium orthophosphate or simply sodium phosphate, depending on its intended use.


What is Trisodium Phosphate Used For?

TSP is employed in many ways, namely as a food additive and the main component of several industrial cleaners. As a cleaner and solvent, it acts as a brick cleaner, degreaser, floor stripper, fungicide, insecticide, lead-abating agent, mildew remover, multi-surface cleaner, paint thinner, stain remover, and a wall-cleaning primer for paint. Before 2011, TSP was also used extensively in dishwashing soaps and laundry detergents until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deemed it harmful to the environment. Because soaps and detergents are released into natural water sources after use—a biproduct known as “graywater”—TSP’s potential as an aquatic toxin was measured and confirmed during studies involving aquatic wildlife. The EPA’s Clean Water Act declared trisodium phosphate a “hazardous substance.” Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the PAN: Pesticides Database warns the public to “AVOID ALL CONTACT!”

This begs the question: If the EPA, CDC, and a comprehensive pesticides database have clearly labeled trisodium phosphate as a hazardous substance, then why does the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) openly condone and encourage its use as a food additive?


 FDA Contradicts Plain Warnings to the Public

The FDA claims that trisodium phosphate is “not recognized as toxic to the human body.” The explicit warning of the CDC and PAN Database to “AVOID ALL CONTACT” with TSP is clearly going unheeded by the FDA, food and hygiene companies, and even the consumers themselves.

 The plain instruction that “ALL CONTACT”—both internally and topically—is dangerous lends no room for negotiation; yet, the FDA has recommended a daily intake of 70mg of trisodium phosphate. To make matters worse, typical Western diets exceed that proposed daily limit by over 500mg!


Symptoms of Internal and Topical Contact with Trisodium Phosphate

Airways and Lungs

· asthmatic bronchitis

· breathing difficulty

· chemical pneumonitis (chemical burns of the airway, specifically lung)

· coughing

· pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)

· throat swelling

Esophagus, Stomach, and Intestines

· abdominal pain (severe)

· acid reflux (heartburn)

· blood in the stool

· burning sensation in mucous membranes (mouth, throat, stomach, rectum)

· diarrhea

· vomiting, possibly bloody

Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Throat

· drooling

· severe pain in the throat

· severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue

· vision loss

Heart and Blood

· low blood pressure (develops rapidly)

· fainting/collapse

· severe change in blood acid level

· shock


· blisters

· burns

· hives

· holes in the skin or tissue under the skin

· skin irritation (dry, itchy)


What Foods Contain Trisodium Phosphate and Why?

 Baked Goods—Acts as a leavening agent, “fluffing up” cakes and breads.

 Cheeses—Acts as an emulsifier, keeping the shape and melting properties intact. 

Dry Cereals—To modify the cereal’s color, assist the cereal’s flow through an extruder, “fluff up” the cereal (if baked), and provide micronutrient fortification. 

Fitness Supplements—Believed to reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles, increase energy output during exercise, and maximize oxygen uptake. 

Meats—To retain color and moisture during storage and cooking. 

Other (non-edible)—Personal hygiene products, such as hair-coloring and hair-bleaching products, mouthwash, and toothpastes (fluoride and flouride-free), as well as an antimicrobial cleaner for washing produce and poultry. 

(Note: Trisodium phosphate can be labeled in many ways: trisodium phosphate, TSP, sodium phosphate tribasic, trisodium orthophosphate, sodium phosphate, disodium phosphate, or tripotassium phosphate.)


How Trisodium Phosphate Affects the Body

· calcification of vital organs, the vascular system, glands, and other soft tissues

· chemical burns of the gastric mucosa (stomach lining) and intestinal wall

· hormonal imbalance (due to glandular calcification)

· mineral imbalance

· reduction of acidity in the gut (poor nutrient and mineral absorption)

· reduction of lactic acid in muscles

· vitamin deficiencies


Why is Trisodium Phosphate So Dangerous?

Every process within the body depends heavily on balance. Due to trisodium phosphate's high alkalinity and high phosphate levels, several imbalances can occur throughout every system of the body.

TSP’s high alkalinity, for example, changes the pH balance of the stomach, damaging the linings of the stomach and intestines and inhibiting proper absorption of nutrients and minerals. Protein synthesis, carbohydrate synthesis, and mineral assimilation are all negatively affected by a rise in pH.

 TSP’s high phosphate levels continue the damaging work of its high alkalinity by causing a build-up of phosphates throughout the system—otherwise known as calcification. This directly affects the organs responsible for filtering out waste and mineral excess, such as the vascular system and kidneys.

 Over time, poor nutrient absorption and calcification of soft tissues can lead to decreased bodily function as organs, structures, and entire systems of the body are forced to leach nutrients and minerals from one another just to maintain the minimum processes of life.


Long-Term Effects of Ingesting Trisodium Phosphate 

· kidney damage (kidney stones, kidney disease, renal failure)

· obesity

· osteopenia (weakened bones due to bone density loss)

· osteoporosis (severely fragile bones at high risk for fracture due to extreme bone density loss)

· systematic malnourishment (and every imaginable consequence of it)



The argument made by companies and organizations that neglect to see the mounting evidence against trisodium phosphate, is that virtually everything the human body consumes or comes in contact with can be toxic at certain doses. While that might be true, the current use and labeling of trisodium phosphate as a food additive is negligent toward public safety and health.

Food labels do not adequately reveal the amount of TSP present per serving and, if the public adheres to the food pyramid devised by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and applauded by the FDA and World Health Organization (WHO), then most individuals are exceeding the daily intake recommendation by 100s of milligrams each day.

Ideally, individuals should educate themselves on what they put in their mouths or on their skin. Too often, however, the decision is left up to these organizations (CDC, FDA, USDA, WHO, etc.), which claim to work in conjunction with one another for the public’s benefit; yet are found to be contradicting one another’s warnings and approvals. Knowing these inconsistencies exist should cause alarm for any consumer, especially those who value their health and the health of their loved ones.

The solution is to come to a greater understanding of the body, nutrition, and the risks associated with not only processed foods, but allowing organizations to think for you. It is imperative to have a firm foundation of knowledge concerning what the body needs and how it functions when those needs are (or are not) met. A plant-based diet of whole foods processed (cooked, baked, mixed) only by you in your home, should be the standard by which you nourish your body.


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