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Artificial Soda Coloring a Potential Carcinogen

Feb 24, 2015

Individuals who drink at least one can of soda per day significantly raise their cancer risk from the potential carcinogen 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), formed during the manufacture of some caramel colorings.

New research, published online in journal PLOS One, builds on an analysis of 4-MEI concentrations in 11 different soft drinks first published by Consumer Reports in 2014. The researchers said lifetime exposure to 4-MEI from caramel-colored soft drinks may greatly increase cancer risk, NewsMaxHealth reports. According to Keeve Nachman, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program at the Center for a Livable Future of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Heath, "Soft drink consumers are being exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary cancer risk from an ingredient that is being added to these beverages simply for aesthetic purposes."

Consumer Reports, in partnership with the CLF, analyzed 4-MEI concentrations in 110 soft drink samples purchased from retail stores in California and the New York metropolitan area. The study paired those results with beverage consumption data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in order to estimate the population risks and cancer burden associated with 4-MEI exposures through soda, NewsMaxHealth reports. The 2014 study was not large enough for the researchers to draw conclusions about specific brands, but the results indicated that levels of 4-MEI vary considerably across samples, even for the same type of beverage. Some diet colas, for instance, had higher or more variable levels of 4-MEI, while “other samples had very low concentrations," according to Tyler Smith, a program officer with the CLF.

There is no federal limit for 4-MEI in food or beverages, and Consumer Reports petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to set limits on the potential carcinogen, according to NewsMaxHealth. Urvashi Rangan, executive director for Consumer Reports' Food Safety and Sustainability Center said the new study "underscores our belief that people consume significant amounts of soda that unnecessarily elevate their risk of cancer over the course of a lifetime." California has set a threshold that prompts labeling based on daily 4-MEI exposure from a food or beverage, such as a soda.

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