Is Caramel Coloring Carcinogenic? FDA Tests Soft Drinks

FDA is testing the relative safety of artificial caramel coloring in soft drinks, prompting the protestations of the American Beverage Association

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That well-known dark caramel coloring of sodas like Coke and Pepsi could be toxic.

Most soft drink companies won’t give away their secret recipes, but the one ingredient you will consistently see on the back of soda cans is caramel coloring. Now the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has announced that it will be performing tests to determine how safe caramel coloring really is for consumption, prompting the protestations of the American Beverage Association, whose brands like Coca Cola, Pepsi, and even many beers most often use caramel coloring. “There is no reason why consumers need to be exposed to this avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food and beverages brown," Consumer Reports' Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and lead investigator on the study, told the Huffington Post.

The reason for the sudden change, according to the Huffington Post, is that recent reports found varying levels of the impurity 4-methylimidazole in the caramel coloring of 12 different brands of soda. The FDA is studying the toxicity of this impurity to see if it may be a carcinogen, because carcinogenic links have been seen in rodent test studies. The impurity is particularly prevalent in PepsiCo products.

“Our beverages are safe,” a representative from the American Beverage Association told The Daily Meal. “The FDA has noted that a consumer ‘would have to drink more than a thousand cans of soda in a day to match the doses administered in studies that showed links to cancer in rodents.’"

Studies thus far have been inconclusive. 

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In addition to our remarks briefly stated here, it’s important to note that this ingredient has long been FDA approved, and for good reason. Decades of in-depth research and review of caramel coloring, including the trace amounts of 4-MEI found in it, have proven this ingredient safe for use in colas and countless other foods. As mentioned here, the FDA has noted there is no reason whatsoever for any health concerns regarding this ingredient – a position that is supported by regulatory agencies around the world. In addition, following a comprehensive review of scientific literature, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reaffirmed that the presence of 4-MEI in caramel coloring is not a health concern. And in November 2011, Health Canada said that 4-MEI, including that found in certain caramel colors, does "not represent a risk" to consumers. While the use of new caramel coloring is underway, scientists do indeed confirm our industry’s beverages are safe. - Maureen Beach, American Beverage Association

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