WHAT IS IT:
It sounds harmless enough but artificial caramel coloring is not the kind of caramel you could make at home, by melting and browning sugar in a pan. Caramel coloring is a coloring agent that gives a brown color to sodas, beer, bread, soy sauce, and other foods. It is used in a wide array of processed foods.
Studies have found the manufacture of certain caramel colorings can lead to the formation of carcinogens, such as 4-MEI (4-methylimidazole), which has been showed to cause cancer in mice. There's no way to tell for certain whether 4-MEI is in soda, as it is listed on labels simply as caramel coloring or artificial coloring. While only two of the four types of caramel coloring contain the potentially carcinogenic chemical, caramel color is actually the single most used food coloring in the world, especially in brown-colored soft drinks.
WAKE UP AMERICA:
While there are still no federal limits, California officially listed it as a carcinogen and started requiring cancer warning labels on soft drinks containing more than 29 mcg per can. If you buy soft drinks anywhere else, it may have 5x the amount regulated in California.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to state that they have "no reason to believe" there is any immediate or short-term danger presented by 4-MEI in foods with caramel coloring. However, they are currently reviewing "all available data" on the safety of 4-MEI to "determine what, if any, regulatory action needs to be taken." This could include federal limits set on the amount of 4-MEI that may be present in caramel coloring.
WHERE YOU CAN FIND IT:
- Malta Goya
- Pepsi One
- Diet Pepsi
- Other brown sodas
- Soy Sauce
- Fast Food Beef
- Dark Breads
HOW TO AVOID IT:
Check your labels! If you want to limit your exposure to 4-MeI, for now the only option is to consume few if any products that list "caramel color" or "artificial color" on their labels.
To express your concern about caramel color in food to the FDA, go to Consumers Union’s websiteNotInMyFood.org.