Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
An investigation by Consumer Reports has revealed troublingly high levels of a carcinogenic brown food coloring in Pepsi One and Goya Malta sodas.
Although there are no limits on the use of the investigated food additive, also known as 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI) or caramel color, California has the substance on its Proposition 65 list of carcinogens. Passed in 2011, the California law requires a food or beverage to have a health warning label if it exposes consumers to over 29 micrograms of 4-MeI a day.
“There’s no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown,” said Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety & Sustainability Center. “Manufacturers have lower 4-MeI alternatives available to them. Ideally there would be no 4-MeI in food.”
To reach their conclusion, researchers with Consumer Reports tested 81 cans and bottles of various soft drinks from five manufacturers between April and September 2013. The soft drinks were purchased from stores in California and the greater New York City area. In December 2013, the research team tested 29 new samples bought in the same areas of those brands that had initially tested above 29 micrograms per container.
“While our study was not large enough to recommend one brand over another, both rounds of testing found that the level of 4-MeI in the samples of Pepsi One and Malta Goya purchased in both locations exceeded 29 micrograms per can or bottle,” Consumer reports said in a press release. “The products we purchased in California did not have a cancer-risk warning label.”
The researchers said their initial testing on brands purchased in California had average 4-Mel levels around or below 29 micrograms per can. However, the New York area samples of those same brands tested significantly higher. During follow-up testing, 4-Mel levels in the New York samples were lower. For example, original Pepsi from the New York City area averaged over 170 micrograms in the first test and 32 micrograms in the second.
“The fact that we found lower amounts of 4-MeI in our last round of tests suggests that some manufacturers may be taking steps to reduce levels, which would be a step in the right direction,” Rangan said.
The researchers noted that Coke, Diet Coke, and Coke Zero all tested below 5 micrograms per can, a level Consumer Reports’ determined to be much more acceptable.
Consumer Reports said it contacted PepsiCo and Goya in January 2014 to find out if their products sold in California complied with the state law.
“When the regulatory requirements changed in California, PepsiCo moved immediately to meet the new requirements,” a PepsiCo spokesperson responded via e-mail, adding that reformulated products with lower levels of 4-MeI would be available nationwide by February 2014. Goya did not respond to the request.
After PepsiCo was informed of the test results, the company released a statement that noted Proposition 65 is based on per day, not per can, exposure – adding that government data shows the standard amount consumed by diet soda drinkers is 100 milliliters per day, or less than one-third of a 12-ounce can.
“No matter how much consumers drink they don’t expect their beverages to have a potential carcinogen in them,” Rangan said. “And we don’t think 4-MeI should be in foods at all. Our tests of Coke samples show that it is possible to get to much lower levels.”