Consumer Reports Finds Carcinogenic Caramel Coloring in Pepsi Products

Posted: 01/24/2014  browse the blog archive
Consumer Reports Finds Carcinogenic Caramel Coloring in Pepsi Products

Consumer Reports recently tested a variety of sodas purchased in California and New York, and found unacceptably high levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) in some of them.  4-MEI is a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.  Under Proposition 65, products containing cancer-causing chemicals must be accompanied by a health hazard warning.  The products purchased by Consumer Reports did not have warnings.

4-MEI is found in some types of caramel color, which is added to many foods and beverages such as sodas, maple syrup, gravies, cereals, and soups to turn them brown.  California requires that manufacturers provide a health hazard warning if the product exposes the consumer to any amount of 4-MEI.  Companies alleged to be violating Proposition 65 by selling products containing 4-MEI may be exempt from the warning requirement if they can prove through scientific evidence that average users of their products will not be exposed to more than 29 micrograms per day of 4-MEI .  Proof that the products expose average users to less than 29 micrograms per day of 4-MEI is known as a “safe harbor” exemption.

Consumer Reports found that of the brands they tested, PepsiOne and Malta Goya had the highest amounts of 4-MEI.  Coca-Cola products (Coke, Diet Coke, and Coke Zero) had the lowest amounts of 4-MEI.  Pepsi products purchased outside of California contained significantly more 4-MEI than Pepsi products purchased inside California, though a second round of testing showed that the levels had fallen, perhaps indicating that Pepsi may be taking steps to reduce levels of 4-MEI in its products.

One of The Chanler Group’s clients, Dr. Whitney Leeman, has filed lawsuits against and negotiated settlements with several manufacturers who did not warn that their products contained 4-MEI.  Some of these products will be reformulated to no longer contain 4-MEI.

The Chanler Group represents citizen enforcers who, acting in the public interest, commence actions against businesses offering products for sale in California that contain chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm without first providing the health hazard warning required by Proposition 65. Citizen enforcers bringing Proposition 65 actions in the public interest may obtain a Court Judgment imposing civil penalties, an injunction requiring reformulation of products, and/or provision of health hazard warnings. The Chanler Group has represented citizen enforcers of Proposition 65 for more than twenty years.