Caramel Color

4-methylimidazole (carmel coloring) is a carcinogen

It turns out that that sugar may not be the only dangerous substance in sodas.

The golden-brown color of many soft drinks is made from a chemical called 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MeI. On U.S. product labels it appears simply as “caramel coloring.”

According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the state of California 4-methylimidazole is a carcinogen.

Currently in the state of California manufacturers have to to insure that consumers are not exposed to more than 29 micrograms of 4-methylimidazole per day.  Foods exceeding that limit have to carry a warning label that reads: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer.”

Consumer reports is now testing products, “We are concerned about both the levels of 4-MeI we found in many of the soft drinks tested and the variations observed among brands, especially given the widespread consumption of these types of beverages,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a Consumer Reports toxicologist.

“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.”

The Food and Drug Administration does not set federal limits on 4-MeI in food, and the data gathered by Consumer Reports show that in some cases consumers outside California may be drinking a slightly different product. For example,  a Pepsi One purchased by the Consumer Reports group in New York contains four times as much 4-MeI as the same product bought at the same time in California.

Consumers interested in more information on 4-Mel click here for the the FDA’s FAQ page.