What happens if you eat one of those silica gel packets that come in the pepperoni you ordered online, your Jimmy Choos, or your new leather coat?
We’re not sure why you would, but if you’ve eaten one by mistake, you’ll likely be fine. According to Mike Yudizky, a recently retired paramedic and the public health educator at the North Texas Poison Control Center, “It’s nothing more than a type of sand. Despite the big-time warnings, it’s completely nontoxic.” Even if you were to eat a shoebox full of packets, the only result would be “an upset tummy. But the same would happen if you drank too much water.”
The grains of what looks like clear caviar in the tiny packets are a desiccant. That is, they absorb moisture. You find them in food products that will have a longer shelf life if they stay dry. That could include pepperoni, dried nuts and fruits, or vitamins.
So why do the packets include warnings, occasionally including a skull and crossbones? To avoid product liability cases, says Yudizky. The packets are “harmful if swallowed by an infant or pet, as they could choke or aspirate on the silicon gel packet,” explains Michelle Musallam, a certified physician’s assistant in Dallas, Texas.
In some cases, the stuff is coated with a moisture indicator such as cobalt (II) chloride, a toxic substance that may be carcinogenic. But Yudizky says even that wouldn’t be a problem because of the incredibly small amount involved.