Does the Carmel Color in Beverages Pose a Cancer Risk?

A new study in PLOS One concluded that 44 to 58 percent of people over age six usually have at least one can of soda daily, potentially exposing them to 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) that is a possible carcinogen formed during manufacture of some kinds of caramel color that is a common ingredient in sodas. The said “Soft drink consumers are being exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary cancer risk from an ingredient that is being added to theseĀ  beverages simply for aesthetic purposes.” This unnecessary exposure poses a threat to public health and raises questions about the continued use of caramel coloring in soda.” Analyzing 4-MEI concentrations in 110 soft drinks purchased in New York and California and comparing with data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey to estimate the risk to populations and cancer burdens associated with 4-MEI they found no federal limits in food and drink but there is Proposition 65 law in California restricting products that the exceed the amount of 4-MEI per day have a warning label. They also found that the level of 4-MEI could vary substantially across samples of soda and for the same type of beverage. They said “For example, for diet sodas, certain samples had higher or more variable levels of the compound, while other samples had very low concentrations. ” They also found sharply contrasting levels of 4-MEI in some soft drinks purchased in the New Yor metropolitan area versus California indicating that regulations such as the California Proposition 65 may be effective in reducing exposure to 4-MEI. This means that sodas could be made with less 4-MEI. They concluded that An FDA intervention, such as determining maximum levels for 4-MEI in beverages could be a valuable approach to reducing excess cancer risk attributed to 4-MEI exposure in the U.S. population.?

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