Does Drinking Decaf Coffee Raise Your Cancer Risk?

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Frowning woman holding a cup of coffee /

Does your morning cup of decaffeinated coffee put you at a greater risk of cancer? Some health advocacy groups worry about that possibility.

Several groups and individuals have banded together to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban methylene chloride, a chemical used in the most common decaffeination process, known as “European method decaf.”

The groups include the Environmental Defense Fund and other organizations, as well as individuals. They say methylene chloride has been linked to cancer.

The groups are also calling on the FDA to ban three other solvents used in decaffeination: ethylene dichloride, benzene and trichloroethylene.

The groups note that the Delaney Clause — part of the FDA’s Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act — requires food additives to be banned if safety testing reveals evidence that the additives might cause cancer in people or animals.

In 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed banning methylene chloride in most situations. Methylene chloride is used for paint stripping, cleaning, degreasing and other processes.

However, the FDA still allows the chemical to be used in food. It maintains that the small amounts of methylene chloride used in the decaffeination process mean the risk to health is “essentially non-existent.”

Although the FDA hasn’t acted, the State of California might do so on its own. A bill in the California State Assembly would ban methylene chloride from human consumption beginning in 2027.

The National Coffee Association objects to the efforts to ban European method decaf. In a statement, Bill Murray — NCA president and CEO — says:

“The overwhelming weight of independent scientific evidence shows that drinking European Method decaf is safe and furthermore that drinking European Method decaf, like all coffee, is associated with decreased risk of multiple cancers and other significant health benefits.”

The NCA notes that the FDA, European Food Safety Authority and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand all say the European decaf method is safe.

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