A new study by Consumer Reports may make you think twice before reaching for a soda (and it’s not about sugar or artificial sweeteners). Some types of caramel color, an additive found in many colas, contain a compound (4-MEI) that may cause cancer, according to some animal studies. Recently, California’s Environmental Protection Agency began requiring a cancer warning for products with 4-MEI that exceeded the state’s recommended limit. As a result, Coca-Cola reformulated their colas sold in the U.S. to use a 4-MEI-free caramel color, and PepsiCo pledged to do the same by February 2014. Yet, when Consumer Reports tested various colas purchased last year, they found some that far exceeded the recommended 4-MEI limit set by California. Of the reformulated sodas they tested, some had low levels but others were higher than expected. The FDA maintains its position that there is no danger from caramel color but, possibly prompted by this report, is continuing to investigate the additive’s safety.
In addition to colas, caramel color is typically found in soy sauce, dark breads, baked goods and beer. There’s no way to know which type of caramel color might be in your food (and it can also be listed just as “artificial color” on the label), but most foods contain such small quantities it shouldn’t be a health concern. If you’re worried, look for products free of caramel color and artificial colors in general.