Slushy machine

New industry guidance issued on glycerol slush-ice drinks

BDA says retailers must be clear about new recommendations, which require businesses to add the minimum quantity of glycerol to make slush
07 September 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

Sugar substitute, glycerol – used in slush-ice drinks to avoid tax – can cause health problems for children in excessive amounts, with cases likely to be under-reported

Slush-ice drinks containing glycerol should not be sold to children under four years of age, nor should under 10s be offered free refill promotions under updated voluntary guidance from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

It follows a risk assessment which found young children suffer headaches and sickness following exposure to excessive amounts of glycerol, a naturally occurring alcohol used as a sugar substitute in slushed drinks since the Soft Drinks Industry Levy came into force.

Children consuming several slushies in a short space of time are exposed to high levels of glycerol, leading to symptoms of glycerol intoxication - shock, hypoglycaemia, and loss of consciousness. The FSA is aware of two cases in Scotland, one in 2021 and one in 2022, where children were hospitalised.

“When using sugar to form slushes a minimum of 12g of sugar per 100ml is needed (higher than regular soft drinks), when using glycerol less can be used, around 5g per 100ml,” said Duane Mellor, a British Dietician Association (BDA) spokesperson. “However, as glycerol is absorbed and metabolised differently that is thought to have been responsible for the two cases of young children who were taken ill after consuming slushed drinks.”

Adam Hardgrave, FSA Head of Additives said, “While the symptoms of glycerol intoxication are usually mild, it is important that parents are aware of the risks – particularly at high levels of consumption. It is likely that there is under-reporting of glycerol intoxication, as parents may attribute nausea and headaches to other factors.”

The assessment considered the average weight of children at different ages and evaluated possible adverse effects of consuming a 350 ml slush drink containing 50,000 mg/L of glycerol, the highest concentration, and comparing it to a threshold level. Children aged four or below would exceed the threshold, while children over four were unlikely to experience negative effects from consuming one slush drink since the effects depend on body weight.

Mellor said retailers must be clear about these new recommendations which require businesses to add glycerol at the minimum quantity technically necessary to achieve the slush effect.

“We need retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and the general public to behave equally responsibly with clear messages at the point of sale, clear labelling and a plan for consumer education.”

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association believes most retailers take their responsibilities seriously and would not want to sell harmful products to children, “but all too often it is the adults buying the products for young children.

“Now that this issue has been identified, we need retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and the general public to behave equally responsibly with clear messages at the point of sale, clear labelling on products and a plan for consumer education,” he said.

Gavin Partington, Director General of British Soft Drinks said, “Our members adhere to all current ingredient legislation including in relation to glycerol. We support this updated FSA communication for the benefit of consumers.”

The FSA will now monitor how widely the guidelines are adopted and could take further action in future, reassessing guidelines if the maximum levels of glycerol used by the industry decrease.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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