Sodas with 4-MEI in their caramel coloring

Background

In 2013, Consumer Reports tested samples of soft drinks for a chemical called 4-Methylimidazole (4-MEI), a part of some kinds of caramel coloring. They purchased them in California and the New York area for comparison because California has labeling requirements that might influence the 4-MEI content. Some of the brands had high enough levels to be questionable, and as you might expect, some of the 4-MEI levels were higher in the New York area where there aren't any labeling issues.

In February of 2015 Consumer Reports released another report that brought the 4-MEI issue back into the news. As best I can tell, it relies on the 2013 soda testing and focuses primarily on an updated risk analysis of the health effects of 4-MEI.

I suspect the levels in most of the brands are safe for moderate consumption, but I think it's an interesting litmus test to see how the brands are addressing the 4-MEI levels in their products.

4-MEI content of different brands

I contacted the brands from the Consumer Reports testing along with a few more I was curious about. The following data is a combination of the 2013 testing and the manufacturer claims:

Brand 4-MEI content (μg/L) per can/bottle
365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods store brand) Dr. Snap Regular
61.1
(as of 2013)

In February 2015, they told me: "We are in communication with our supplier regarding testing of all 365 brand sodas. According to our supplier, the levels of 4-MeI are compliant with state laws and we will continue to monitor those levels."

When I asked for specific levels, they replied, "Unfortunately, the testing protocols and results are proprietary to the vendor, so we are unable to share them."

A&W Root Beer
65.0
(as of 2013)

In February 2015, they told me: "Dr Pepper Snapple Group products [which includes A&W] containing caramel coloring meet the standard established by California's Proposition 65." That level is 29mcg, though manufacturers might have some wiggle room by using a "typical amount consumed" that's less than a can/bottle.

I requested actual levels per can, and was told that that information is "considered proprietary to our company".

Brisk Lemon Iced Tea
46.5
(as of 2013)

As of February 2015, I've not heard back on my request for current 4-MEI levels.

Coke
11.7
(as of 2013)

As of February 2015, I've not heard back on my request for current 4-MEI levels.

Coke Zero
10.3
(as of 2013)

As of February 2015, I've not heard back on my request for current 4-MEI levels.

Diet Coke
9.8
(as of 2013)

As of February 2015, I've not heard back on my request for current 4-MEI levels.

Diet Pepsi
191.5
(as of 2013)

In July 2013, PepsiCo stated that they were working to reduce levels of 4-MEI, with a completion date of February 2014. I asked for information on whether levels had been reduced, and was only given a response about caramel coloring being believed to be safe and stating compliance with Proposition 65.

Dr. Pepper
28.0
(as of 2013)

In February 2015, they told me: "Dr Pepper Snapple Group products containing caramel coloring meet the standard established by California's Proposition 65." That level is 29mcg, though manufacturers might have some wiggle room by using a "typical amount consumed" that's less than a can/bottle. I've not yet heard back on my request for actual levels.

Goya Malta
945.5
(as of 2013)

As of February 2015, I haven't yet received any reply on what current levels might be.

Hansen's Natural
Probably 0
(as of February 2015)

They told me: "We at Hansen's do not have 4mei (4-Methyl Imidazole) in any of the caramel coloring we use at Hansen's. Hansen's caramel coloring is burnt sugar."

Pepsi One
246.9
(as of 2013)

In July 2013, PepsiCo stated that they were working to reduce levels of 4-MEI, with a completion date of February 2014. I asked for information on whether levels had been reduced, and was only given a response about caramel coloring being believed to be safe and stating compliance with Proposition 65.

Pepsi
183.6
(as of 2013)

In July 2013, PepsiCo stated that they were working to reduce levels of 4-MEI, with a completion date of February 2014. I asked for information on whether levels had been reduced, and was only given a response about caramel coloring being believed to be safe and stating compliance with Proposition 65.

Sprite (used as a control)
None detected
(as of 2013)
Zevia
Less than 14.5 (per serving, not per can, with lighter-colored flavors having less)

This is based on Zevia's response to me in February 2015.

They emphasized that their Lemon Lime Twist, Orange, Black Cherry, Grape, Grapefruit Citrus, Mountain Zevia, Strawberry, and Tonic Water flavors are free of caramel coloring.


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