In Consumer Reports’ recent tests of sodas and other soft drinks, 4-methylimidazole, a potentially-carcinogenic chemical byproduct of the production of certain types of caramel color, was found in the samples that listed caramel color as an ingredient.
“We are concerned about both the levels of 4-MeI we found in many of the soft drinks tested and the variations observed among brands, especially given the widespread consumption of these types of beverages," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.
Caramel color is used in some food and beverages as a coloring agent. Some types of this artificial coloring contain 4-MeI, which has been recognized as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
While there are no existing federal limits on the amount of caramel color allowed in food and beverages, products sold in California that would expose consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI in a day are required to carry a warning label under the state’s Proposition 65 law.
Between April and September 2013, Consumer Reports tested 81 cans and bottles of various brands of soft drinks purchased in stores in California and the New York metropolitan region. Twenty-nine additional samples were purchased and tested in December 2013.
In its tests, Consumer Reports found that 12-ounce single servings of two products purchased multiple times during an eight-month period in California – Pepsi One and Malta Goya – exceeded 29 micrograms per can or bottle. Consumer Reports thinks that these levels are too high and the organization has asked the California attorney general to investigate.
After Consumer Reports informed PepsiCo of its test results, the company issued a statement that said that Proposition 65 is based on per day exposure and not exposure per can. It also cited government consumption data that shows that the average amount of diet soda consumed by people who drink it is 100 milliliters per day, or less than a third of a 12-ounce can. For that reason, they believe that Pepsi One doesn’t require cancer-risk warning labels – even if the amount of 4-MeI in a single can exceeds 29 micrograms.