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Chinese Whispers: What They Mean for MSG and Rumors about Its Safety

By April 21, 2014October 11th, 2023Featured, MSG
msg sensitivity

Most of us have probably played “telephone,” a game of sorts where someone initiates an elaborate story or message that then gets passed from person to person. The resulting story? Usually so far-fetched from the original, it is laughable. That’s what makes the game fun! But what many people may not know is “telephone” is also called “Chinese whispers.”

Chinese Whispers

1. A game in which a message is passed on, in a whisper, by each of a number of people, so that the final version of the message is often radically changed from the original

2. Any situation where information is passed on in turn by a number of people, often becoming distorted in the process

So what does “Chinese whispers” (and playing “telephone”) have to do with monosodium glutamate (MSG)?

A LOT. Due to years of inaccurate information being passed around about MSG’s safety, much misinformation exists today. No doubt someone has told you that MSG is bad for you, that it has horrible side effects, that you should avoid it at all costs.

I would like to hang up the telephone and help put an end to all of the erroneous “whispering” about MSG safety. But don’t take my word for it. Rather, take a look at what worldwide health-focused regulatory and scientific agencies say about that safety of MSG. These organizations have based their conclusions on hundreds of studies, none of which have conclusively linked MSG to specific health issues, including what some call the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” The bottom line: MSG is safe.

United States Code of Federal Regulations for Substances that are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) (21 CFR § 182.1): “(a) It is impracticable to list all substances that are generally recognized as safe for their intended use. However, by way of illustration, the Commissioner regards such common food ingredients as salt, pepper, vinegar, baking powder, and monosodium glutamate as safe for their intended use.”

JECFA (WHO/FAO)*: “The total dietary intake of glutamates arising from their use at levels necessary to achieve the desired technological effect and from their acceptable background in food do not represent a hazard to health.” Thus, JECFA concluded that a numerical limit (referred to as Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI) does not need to be set for MSG consumption.
*JECFA – Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives

The Scientific Committee for Food of the Commission of the European Communities (SCF), which is accepted today by the European Union:The SCF conducted a safety evaluation similar to that of JECFA and reached the same conclusion: MSG need not have an ADI.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ): Regarding the safety of MSG, they concluded “there is no convincing evidence that MSG is a significant factor in causing systemic reactions resulting in severe illness or mortality.”

So, enough with kids’ games. I highly recommend that adults take a hard look at the science and not be sharing misinformation. You can help end needless worrying based on unsubstantiated claims about the safety of MSG.

For direct links to these and other expert sources, please visit

Kaye is an author and consulting nutritionist with more than 15 years’ experience representing clients in the food industry, providing strategic leadership and consulting on meal planning, recipe development, consumer-focused educational materials relating to food and nutrition, science-based communications, and media relations. Read more about her background on the About page.

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