New news about caramel color in soft drinks

Consumer Reports' test results show some improvements, but more are needed

Consumer Reports Magazine: July 2015

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You may have heard that some types of caramel coloring in soft drinks, pancake syrup, and other foods contain a potential carcinogen called 4-MeI. Now Goya and Pepsi, two companies with products that had high levels of 4-MeI in samples we tested in 2013, seem to have made improvements.

Lifetime daily exposure to 29 micrograms (mcg) of 4-MeI carries a risk of 1 excess cancer case in 100,000. But because caramel color is in many foods, it’s not difficult to exceed that amount. An analysis of national soda intake from Consumer Reports and Johns Hopkins University found that on any given day, almost 60 percent of people ages 16 to 44 drink soda, consuming an average of two cans per day.

Get more information on important food-safety issues in our Food Safety Guide.  

We repeated our 2013 tests with samples purchased in California and the New York metropolitan area. Five of the six new samples of Malta Goya had no detectable 4-MeI. (In our 2013 tests, all of the samples had more than 300 mcg.) Better, but the outlier had 274 mcg.

When we tested nine cans of Pepsi Max (similar to the discontinued Pepsi One, which had the second highest levels of 4-MeI in our 2013 tests), the results ranged from 22 to 29 mcg. Most California samples of Pepsi and Diet Pepsi had around 3 mcg; two had levels around 24 mcg. Six New York samples had 22 to 27 mcg.

Ideally, there would be no 4-MeI in food, but the risk is very low when levels are under 5 mcg per serving. Goya and Pepsi have the ability to get there; they just need to be more consistent about doing so.

Are you drinking less soda?

Tell us about your soda consumption by adding a comment below.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the September 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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