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Caramel coloring in sodas could be carcinogenic

California does have restrictions for the amount of 4-Mel drinks and foods can have, but tests have shown that some branded sodas exceed the set limit.

By Ananth Baliga
Caramel coloring in sodas could be carcinogenic
Consumers can check if products have 4-Mel, which is commonly listed as "Caramel Color." (Credit: Consumer Reports)

A chemical coloring agent called 4-methylimidazole, or 4-Mel, used to give sodas their golden-brown caramel color, could be carcinogenic.

Consumer Reports, a consumer empowerment organization, conducted tests on sodas to find the concentration of this chemical in popular soda brands.

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The chemical was found to be carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2011, and California's Proposition 65 asks food and drinks with 29 micrograms or more of 4-Mel to carry a health warning.

After testing these sodas, Consumer Reports found that 12-ounce samples of Pepsi One and Malta Goya had more than 29 micrograms of 4-Mel per can or bottle. Ten other brands tested had acceptable levels of 4-Mel, within the California standard.

"We are concerned about both the levels of 4-Mel 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.

The samples were taken from California and New York. Samples taken from New York had additional soda brands with 4-Mel levels as higher the the California standard, but the state does not have any restrictions for the use of the coloring agent.

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[Consumer Reports] [International Agency for Research on Cancer]

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