FDA looks at safety of caramel coloring

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January 23, 2014 3:42:35 PM PST
The Food & Drug Administration is conducting new studies on the safety of caramel colorings used in soft drinks and many foods.

That comes in response to a Consumer Reports study on the coloring.

Nearly half of americans drink soda every day.

Many of them contain caramel color - and two types of those dyes can contain a potentially cancer-causing by-product.

"There is a risk in there that consumers should be informed about," says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., the lead investigator.

Consumer Reports recently tested 100 samples of soft drinks bought in california and the new york area, including ice tea, root beer, colas, and a non-alcoholic malt drink.

Researchers were looking for a chemical - 4-M-E-I, which, according to a government study, caused cancer in mice.

It showed up at varying levels across all of the samples that had caramel coloring.

"Some sodas were actually fairly low in their levels of 4-M-E-I, whereas some soft drinks were extremely high," says Dr. Rangan.

Consumer Reports found the highest levels of 4 M-E-I in Malta Goya and in Pepsi One.

All the Coca-Cola samples were far lower.

"The limitation in this study is a very small sample size, so we can't really draw conclusions about any one given brand," says Dr. Rangan.

However, Consumer Reports says people should know if the caramel color they are drinking contains a potential cancer-causing agent.

Two types don't, but the label simply says "caramel color or artificial color," so you don't know the type you are getting.

Dr. Rangan advises, "Consumers who want to avoid this hazard should avoid caramel color in sodas altogether."

Be sure to check other foods, too - barbecue sauce, syrups, bread, and beer often contain caramel color, too.

There are no federal limits for 4-M-E-I, however, Consumer Reports has petitioned the government to set ones.

Consumer Reports told PepsiCo and Goya about its findings.

Goya says it is looking into the matter.

PepsiCo says its products sold in California meet that state's regulations for 4-M-E-I and it is voluntarily applying those same standards to the rest of the country within the next month.

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