WASHINGTON: The Food and Drug Administration says there’s no reason to believe that the coloring added to sodas is unsafe. But the agency is taking another look just to make sure.
The announcement comes in response to a study by Consumer Reports that shows 12 brands of soda have varying levels of 4-methylimidazole — an impurity found in some caramel coloring.
The FDA says it has studied the use of caramel as a flavor and color additive for decades but will review new data on the safety of 4-methylimidazole. The agency did not provide details about the data.
“These efforts will inform the FDA’s safety analysis and will help the agency determine what, if any, regulatory action needs to be taken,” said FDA spokeswoman Juli Putnam.
There are no federal limits on the amount of 4-methylimidazole in food and drink. The substance is formed in some caramel coloring at low levels during the manufacturing process. The FDA says it also can occur in trace amounts when coffee beans are roasted or some meats are grilled.
The Consumer Reports study urged the agency to set a maximum level of the substance when it is artificially added to foods or soda, to require labeling when it is added and to bar products from carrying the “natural” label if they contain caramel colors.
Though studies have not been conclusive about whether 4-methylimidazole is a carcinogen, California includes it on the state list of carcinogens and a state law mandates a cancer warning label on products that have a certain level of the substance. In reaction to that law, Coke, Pepsi and other soft-drink makers have directed their caramel-color suppliers to reduce the levels of 4-methylimidazole. It is not found in all caramel colorings.