If you drink soda, we have some information about a possible health risk you need to know. Recent tests by Consumer Reports show that some soft drinks contain a potential carcinogen—and a couple have relatively high levels. The culprit? A chemical in the coloring that makes the drinks an enticing shade of brown.
Consumer Reports recently tested 110 samples of soft drinks bought in the New York area and in California, including iced tea, root beer, colas, and a non-alcoholic malt drink. The chemical, 4-MeI, which a government study found caused cancer in mice, showed up at varying levels across all brands tested that contained caramel coloring.
Some sodas were actually fairly low in their levels of 4-MeI, whereas some soft drinks were extremely high. The highest levels of 4-MeI that Consumer Reports found were in Malta Goya and in Pepsi One. Goya says it is looking into the matter. PepsiCo says its products sold in California meet that state’s regulations for 4-MeI and it is voluntarily applying those same standards to the rest of the country within the next month.
All of the Coca Cola samples had much lower levels of 4-MeI. The limitation in this study is a very small sample size, so Consumer Reports can’t really draw conclusions about any one given brand.
However, Consumer Reports says that people should know whether the caramel color they are drinking contains a potential carcinogen. Two types don’t, but the label simply says caramel color or artificial color, so you don’t know the type you’re getting.
Consumers who want to avoid that hazard should avoid caramel color in sodas altogether. Also check the labels on other types of foods, including barbecue sauce, syrups, bread, and beer.
There are currently no federal limits on 4-MeI in food products. Consumer Reports is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to set limits and to require more explicit labeling.