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Christmas cookie danger: Why you shouldn't eat those little silver balls

Silver dragees, often used to decorate holiday cookies and cakes, are safe to decorate with but not safe to eat, according to FDA guidelines.
by Vidya Rao / / Source: TODAY

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Who doesn’t love a little Christmas-tree or candy cane-shaped sugar cookie during the holidays?

But if that cookie is covered in little silver balls, you may want to stay away ... or at least just pick them off your sweet treat.

Silver dragees may be great for decor, but avoid eating them.
Silver dragees may be great for decor, but avoid eating them.Getty Images

Those silver decorations, known as dragees, taste just like hardened sugar and often show up on cookies and cakes particularly during the holiday season. While silver has been banned as a food-coloring additive since 1906, FDA guidelines say that the silver dragees can be used for decoration, but they are deemed unsafe for human consumption.

“When small silver balls known as ‘silver dragees’ are sold exclusively for decorating cakes and are used under conditions which preclude their consumption as confectionery, they are not considered to be in the category of a food or confectionery,” the guidelines state, adding, “There is no authority under the color additive regulations which permits silver to be used as a color.

"Neither is there a food additive regulation (or exemption) authorizing silver as a food coating.”

Today, you can still buy dragees in 49 states, but they must be clearly labeled by retailers as "for decoration only." So where can't you find these little balls? In California, thanks to a lawsuit filed in 2003.

These FDA guidelines specifically regulate silver dragees, and simply point out that they are desginated as a decoration and not as a food product. These guidelines also don't necessarily apply to all silver sprinkles.

Some silver-looking food products may actually be made with a variety of other FDA-approved food coloring.

When shopping for edible dessert decor, including glitters and gold leaf, be sure to look for the word “edible” on the label, as well as a full ingredient list: if it only says “non-toxic” or “for decorative purposes only,” then don’t eat it.

While ingesting a small amount of silver likely won’t kill you, it’s best to avoid eating silver at all, if possible, lest you suffer the same fate this guy did, turning himself blue after drinking colloidal silver.

And if you happen to come across a dessert with silver dragees or want to decorate your own holiday offerings with a little bling, it’s safe to do so as long as you remove them before eating — and advise your guests to do the same!

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