In 2011, the state of California created a problem for the soda industry.
The caramel color that Coke and Pepsi used to give colas that distinctive brown hue contained a chemical, 4-methylimidazole — 4-MEI — that is listed as a carcinogen by the state.
And California’s Proposition 65 law states that the levels of 4-MEI found in sodas would have warranted a cancer warning label on every can sold in the state.
In March, PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. promised to change the formula and it would not contain any or little of 4-MEI. The changes were made for drinks sold in California when the law passed.
The carcinogen in question, “4-Mel”, is known in full as 4-methylimidazole, and can form when certain foods are being cooked; as such, several foods may contain 4-Mel, even in trace amounts.
Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other manufacturers insist it is safe at the low doses found in drinks.
But studies have shown that long-term exposure to the chemical causes lung cancer in rats, and health officials in California ruled that products with more than 29mcg must carry a health warning.
Food campaigners say daily consumption of 4-MI at 30mcg would cause cancer in one in 100,000 people over their lifetimes, says the Daily Mail.
Coke products no longer contain dangerous amounts of the substance, however, according to the latest research revealed by an environmental group on Wednesday, Pepsi still contains inappropriate level of a carcinogen in its caramel coloring, even after the drink maker said it would change its formula.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola has moved to a modified type of caramel in U.S. markets outside of California, one that does not contain 4-Mel. Coke added that all of its products, regardless of modified caramel content, are safe in the eyes of regulatory agencies.
The Center for Environmental Health had previously assigned Metairie, La.’s Eurofins Analytical Laboratory to conduct further tests on Pepsi and Coke products in May for products sold in California, and for those sold in other parts of the U.S. in June.
A new analysis by the Center for Environmental Health found that 10 of 10 samples of Pepsi products purchased nationwide during the month of June (in locations outside California) contained levels of 4-MEI that were about four to eight times higher than the safety thresholds set by California.
In contrast, nine of the 10 samples of Coke products purchased in locations outside California contained little or no trace of 4-MEIm writes the Salt.
Pepsi said its caramel coloring suppliers are changing their manufacturing process to cut the amount of 4-Mel in its caramel. That process is complete in California and will be finished in February 2014 in the rest of the country. Pepsi said it will also be taken out globally, but did not indicate a timeline.
Meanwhile, the company said the FDA and other regulatory agencies around the world consider Pepsi’s caramel coloring safe.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo account for almost 90 per cent of the soda market, according to industry tracker Beverage Digest.