Caramel-Colored Soft Drinks Pose a Risk?

The caramel coloring in some sodas contains a potential carcinogen, Consumer Report says.


Quenching your thirst with certain caramel-colored drinks might expose you to a possible carcinogen, Consumer Reports says.

Consumer Reports study found that Pepsi One and Malta Goya (a nonalcoholic malt beverage) sold in California both contained notable levels of the carcinogenic chemical 4-methylimidazole (also known as 4-MeI), which is found in some caramel coloring.

California mandates that any food or beverage that exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms per day carry health warning labels. Consumer Reports said:

… each of the 12-ounce samples of Pepsi One and Malta Goya had more than 29 micrograms per can or bottle. While we cannot say that this violates California’s Prop 65, we believe that these levels are too high, and we have asked the California attorney general to investigate.

Consumer Reports’ study said Pepsi One had 43.5 micrograms and Malta Goya had 352.5, compared with Coca-Cola, which had 4.3 micrograms, and Dr Pepper, with 10.1. But the numbers weren’t completely cut and dried, says Consumer Reports.

In our initial testing, some of the other brands we bought in California had average levels around or below 29 micrograms per can, but the New York area samples of those same brands tested much higher. In our second test, though, the levels in the New York samples had come down. For example, regular Pepsi from the New York area averaged 174 micrograms in the first test and 32 micrograms in the second.

“The fact that we found lower amounts of 4-MeI in our last round of tests suggests that some manufacturers may be taking steps to reduce levels, which would be a step in the right direction,” said Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

Pepsi contested the study’s findings. Reports the Los Angeles Times:

The soda giant said the levels of 4-MeI in its drinks did not amount to 29 micrograms per day because “the average amount of diet soda consumed by those who drink it is approximately 100 [milliliters] per day, or less than a third of a 12 [ounce] can.”

Consumer Reports disagreed with that consumption estimate.

The Times also reported this statement from Pepsi:

We are extremely concerned about Consumer Reports’ allegation that one of our products exceeds the Prop 65 standard and requires a warning label. We believe their conclusion is factually incorrect and reflects a serious misunderstanding of Prop 65’s requirements.

There is no federal limit for consumption of 4-MeI, the Times says.

Are you one of those folks who drink caramel-colored soda multiple times a day? Are you considering changing your soda habits? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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