Update: Following the release of the Center for Environmental Health, a PepsiCo representative said the company plans to complete the phasing out of the ingredient by February 2014.
Crack open a soda this summer and you could be getting more than a refreshing fizz. More than a year after Pepsi vowed to tackle an unhealthy PR problem—a potential carcinogen in its soda—independent tests found the common contaminant still lurks in some Pepsi products.
The compound with links to cancer— 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI— is a result of the type of artificial caramel food coloring the corporation sources, a byproduct of caramel processed with ammonium compounds, acids, or alkalis. Already removed from Pepsi products in California, where the state’s stricter stance on chemicals forced soda companies to reformulate or include a warning label, recent tests commission by the Center for Environmental Health found some Pepsi products sold outside of California still contain concerning levels of 4- MEI.
There is a way around this. In 2012, the state of California added ammonia-caramel coloring as a carcinogen under the state’s Proposition 65 law. Soda containing more than 29 micrograms of 4- MEI now has to carry a warning by law in that state. In other parts of the country, there were no laws protecting soda-drinking consumers. But when March 2012 Center for Food Safety tests found some Coke and Pepsi products contained up to a whopping 150 micrograms in a can of soda, both corporate giants vowed to lower levels not just in California, but nationwide. The Center for Environmental Health says Coke has kept its promise, but Pepsi, not so much. "This shows how California’s Proposition 65 law can make products safer for all Californians, and in some cases for all Americas," says Michael Green, executive director of CEH. "We applaud Coke for taking this health protective action for consumers nationwide. Pepsi’s delay is inexplicable. We urge the company to take swift action to provide all Americans with the same safer product they’re selling in California."
Read More: 7 Surprising Reasons to Give Up Soda
Pepsi sent Rodale News the following statement:
"We strongly refute any claim that any product we sell anywhere is unsafe. The safety of our products is PepsiCo's top priority, and we abide by the regulatory guidelines everywhere we do business. The FDA and other regulatory agencies around the world, including the European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada, consider our caramel coloring safe for use in foods and beverages. The FDA has been very clear and firm in this point. In fact, the FDA has stated that a consumer would need to drink more than 1,000 cans of cola a day to even approach the doses that were used in the studies.
While we meet the strict FDA guidelines, when the regulatory requirements changed in California PepsiCo moved immediately to meet the new requirements and in order to maintain a harmonized supply chain globally committed to rolling out the changes across the rest of the U.S. and internationally. The work has been completed in California and several other U.S. states and we are on track to complete the roll out by February 2014. It is important to note that throughout this process there will be no change to the overall Pepsi-Cola product or to the great Pepsi taste consumers know and love."
Ammonia caramel food coloring hides out in other places, too, like soy and Worcestershire sauces. It's sometimes used to not only darken soda, but breads, beer, meat, and gravy, too. It’s sometimes even used as a man-made ingredient that looks similar to cocoa in baked goods, Center for Science in the Public Interest warns.
Regardless of fake food coloring, there are plenty of other reasons to steer clear of soda. Need more info? Check out these 9 Disturbing Side Effects of Soda .
Published on: July 10, 2013
Updated on: July 12, 2013