Did you know when you down that diet soda you may be imbibing in potentially dangerous carcinogens?

According to Consumer Reports, the culprit is caramel coloring – the most utilized food coloring in the world – which contains the chemical 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MeI, a potentially cancer causing chemical.

While there are no federal limits on the chemical’s use, California mandates warning labels on foods or beverages that contain more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI. WebMD Report on Cancer Causing Chemical and Pepsi One

Foods or drinks over that limit must have a label that reads: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.”

Yet when Consumer Reports recently analyzed sodas in California, it determined that one 12-ounce serving of Pepsi One or Malta Goya exceeded the levels permitted – without a warning label. Consumer Report: Sodas containing carcinogen

The study revealed that 12-ounce cans of the low-calorie soft drink Pepsi One contained as much as 43.5 micrograms of 4-MeI, and that a nonalcoholic malt beverage called Malta Goya had as much as 352.5 micrograms. 

A spokeswoman for the FDA said the agency is looking into the complaint.

“The FDA – Q&A on Caramel Coloring and 4-MEI – has studied the use of caramel as a flavor and as a color additive in foods for decades,”  the agency said in a statement. The agency said it would test a variety of foods, including sodas, for 4-MEI, yet noted, “Currently, the FDA has no reason to believe that 4-MEI, at the levels expected in food from the use of caramel colors, poses a health risk to consumers.”

According to Consumer Reports, manufactures are working to make changes. In the initial testing, some of the other brands bought in California had average levels around or below 29 micrograms per can, but the New York area samples of those same brands tested much higher. In the second test, however, levels in New York samples had decreased. For example, regular Pepsi from the New York area averaged 174 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,” Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., toxicologist and executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety & Sustainability Center said in a press release.

But Consumer Reports’ experts think even that risk is too high. “It’s possible to get more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI in one can of some of the drinks we tested. And even if your choice of soft drink contains half that amount, many people have more than one can per day,”  Rangan said. “Given that coloring is deliberately added to foods, the amount of 4-MeI in them should pose a negligible risk, which is defined as no more than one excess cancer case in 1 million people.” To meet that risk level,Consumer Reports’ experts say a soft drink would need to contain about 3 micrograms or less per can.

Consumer Reports: The health risk may be in your soda

Print Friendly, PDF & Email