Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is again investigating the safety of caramel colouring used in colas to add flavour and colour. However, the agency says it still believes the ingredient is safe.
The move comes in response to a Consumer Reports study showing varying levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-Mel) in soft drinks containing caramel colouring. The substance is formed in some caramel colours during manufacturing. The FDA says it will review new data on the safety of 4-Mel, but so far has not provided details about the data.
The study urges the FDA to set limits on the amount of 4-Mel allowed in food and beverages – something currently not regulated – and to be labelled as such when it is artificially added to foods or soft drinks. The study also calls on the FDA to stop producers from carrying a “natural” label if they contain caramel colours.
Although there is no consensus as to whether 4-Mel is a carcinogen, California has already added it to its list of cancer-causing substances, and requires a cancer-warning label on products containing a certain level.
The eight-month Consumer Reports study found that 12-oz. servings of Pepsi One and Malta Goya bought in California exceeded the state’s per day threshold for 4-Mel – which is set at 29 micrograms – but did not carry a warning label. The group is urging California’s attorney general’s office to investigate.
Other soft drinks included in the study were Sprite, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, Dr Pepper, Dr. Snap, Brisk Iced Tea, A&W Root Beer, Pepsi, and Diet Pepsi. Consumer Reports says there were no 4-Mel levels detected in Sprite, and consistently low levels in Coke products.