Cola Coloring Won’t Cause Cancer, FDA Says

by Chris Curley on March 8, 2012

A chemical found in the caramel coloring used to darken some sodas is not a danger to humans, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says.

The FDA issued the statement after the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer watchdog group, claimed that Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper, and Whole Foods’ 365 Cola contained unsafe levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a chemical found in the coloring agent.

Some of the sodas tested contained nearly 140 micrograms of 4-MEI (or 0.4 parts per million) per 12-ounce can, well above the state of California’s legal limit of 29 micrograms, Reuters reported March 6. That’s below the FDA’s safety threshold of 250 parts per million of 4-MI, however.

“This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics,” the American Beverage Association wrote in a statement. “Findings of regulatory agencies worldwide … consider caramel coloring safe for use in foods and beverages.”

Some studies say that 4-MEI is a carcinogen, even if the FDA disagrees that it’s harmful at the levels present in soft drinks.

“If companies can make brown food coloring that is carcinogen-free, the industry should use that,” CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson says. This marks the second time that the CSPI has petitioned the FDA to ban 4-MEI from caramel coloring.

(Photo © [Chris] via Flickr)