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Caramel Coloring in Many Sodas Contains Potential Carcinogens

Soda containing caramel coloring
Soda containing caramel coloring

In a report out yesterday by Consumer Reports, the organization warns of a chemical found in many sodas and other foods. 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI) is a chemical found in caramel coloring - not all caramel coloring, but a lot of it. And it's also a chemical that's been found to cause cancer in mice. 

In California, Proposition 65 states that any food or beverage sold in the state that exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI per day is supposed to carry a label that warns of the possible cancer risks. No sodas sold in the state currently carry such a label. So, do the sodas on our shelves violate that law? And are we at risk for cancer by drinking them?

According to the report:

In 2007, a federal government study concluded that 4-MeI caused cancer in mice and the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined the chemical to be "possibly carcinogenic to humans" in 2011. There's no federal limit for levels of 4-MeI in foods and beverages, but as of January 7, 2012 California requires manufacturers to label a product sold in the state with a cancer warning if it exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI per day. In this case, the exposure comes from consumption.

The scary part comes in when you realize that there's no way to know if this chemical is present - all the ingredients list has to say is "caramel color," and there's no way to know if the caramel color used contains 4-MeI, and if so, what the concentration. 

Consumer Reports conducted a study, testing a number of sodas for the presence and concentration of 4-Mel. All of the sodas tested that have "caramel coloring" on the ingredient list had some amounts of 4-MeI, though the concentration varied greatly. In the 12-ounce samples they tested, both Pepsi One and Malta Goya had more than 29 micrograms per can or bottle. Coke had significantly less. 

Consumer Reports is quick to say that they can not definitively say whether the sodas with higher concentrations of the chemical violate California's Prop 65, but they believe it poses enough of a risk that they have asked CA's Attorney General to investigate. 

Consumer Reports has also released a video to inform the public about its work in this area, and warn about 4-MeI. You can watch it below. 

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