Carcinogens in a can

New research suggests American soda sippers ingesting potential carcinogen in caramel color.

Half of all Americans over the age of six may be sipping a carcinogen with their daily can of soda. Caramel color, a common ingredient in dark-colored soft drinks, contains 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a possible human carcinogen. A new study analyzed the content of a sampling of sodas and paired that information with data about consumer’s soda habits to investigate the risk.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future partnered with researchers at Consumer Reports to analyze 4-MEI concentrations of 110 soft drink samples purchased from retail stores in California and the New York metropolitan area. Their study, published in the journal PLOS One, and noted on, pairs those results with population beverage consumption data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in order to estimate the population risks and cancer burden associated with 4-MEI exposures through soda.
"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," sais Keeve Nachman, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program at the CLF and an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a release from Johns Hopkins. "This unnecessary exposure poses a threat to public health and raises questions about the continued use of caramel coloring in soda."
Researchers also found that sodas sampled in New York had a lot more 4-MEI than those from California. California’s Proposition 65 law, which requires any food or beverage sold in the state that exposes consumers to more than a specific amount of 4-MEI requires a health warning label. Consumer Reports petitioned the FDA to set limits for 4-MEI last years.
“This new analysis underscores our belief that people consume significant amounts of soda that unnecessarily elevate their risk of cancer over the course of a lifetime,” Urvashi Rangan, PhD, executive director for Consumer Reports' Food Safety and Sustainability Center said in the Hopkins release. “We believe beverage makers and the government should take the steps needed to protect public health. California has already taken an important step by setting a threshold for prompting Prop 65 labeling based on daily 4-MEI exposure from a food or beverage, such as a soda.”

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