Stevia is the artificial sweetener derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. The active compounds; stevioside and rebaudioside A are responsible for the sweet taste that is 300 times sweeter than cane sugar. Stevia is typically a white or slightly yellowish white crystalline that is mostly odourless.
Stevia is used as a natural sweetener that is an alternative to cane sugar. The glycosides in stevia can not be metabolised by the body, meaning it contains no calories. These features make it ideal for those looking to reduce their sugar intake for reasons such; as diabetes and weight loss and many food and drink manufacturers use stevia in the place of sugar to cater to these consumers.
The main route of exposure for stevia is ingestion, with inhalation, skin and eye contact not thought to produce any adverse health effects.
As stevia really only exists as an ingredient in food and drink, ingestion is inevitable. There is limited evidence that believes the substance may cause irreversible but non-lethal mutagenic effects. While stevia has not been classified as “harmful by ingestion”, evidence does not exist based on consumption of larger quantities of the material. Ingestion of insignificant amounts is not thought to be cause for concern.
If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Other measures are usually unnecessary.
If swallowed, immediately give the patient a glass of water. First aid is not generally required, but if in doubt, contact a poisons information centre.
If skin exposure occurs, wash the affected area with soap and water. Seek medical attention if irritation occurs.
If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with water. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Seek medical attention if irritation occurs.
Local exhaust ventilation is required where solids are handled as powders or crystals. Eyewash units are only required if handling large quantities.
The PPE recommended when handling stevia includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, dust respirators, protective gloves and a lab coat .