Cold and sweet, nearly half of Americans drink soda daily, an average of two-and-a-half glasses a day. Much of it contains caramel color - two types of which can contain a potentially carcinogenic by-product.
Dr. Urvashi Rangan with Consumer Reports found, "There is a risk in there that consumers should be informed about."
Consumer Reports recently tested 110 samples of soft drinks bought in the New York area and California, including iced tea, root beer, colas, and a non-alcoholic malt drink. The chemical, 4-M-E-I, which a government study found caused cancer in mice, showed up at varying levels across all brands tested that contained caramel coloring.
Dr. Rangan says, "Some sodas were actually fairly low in their levels of 4-MeI, whereas some soft drinks were extremely high."
The highest levels of 4-M-E-I Consumer Reports found were in Malta Goya and in Pepsi One.
They exceeded a level that in California is supposed to require a cancer-warning label.
All the Coca Cola samples were well below that level.
Dr. Rangan went on to say, "The limitation in this study is a very small sample size, so we can't really draw conclusions about any one given brand."
However, Consumer Reports says people should know if the caramel color they are drinking contains a potential carcinogen. Two types don't, but the label simply says caramel color or artificial color, so you don't know the type you're getting.
Dr. Rangan advises, "Consumers who want to avoid this hazard should avoid caramel color in sodas altogether."
Check the labels on other types of foods too, including barbecue sauce, syrups, bread, and beer.
There are currently no federal limits on 4-M-E-I in food products. Consumer Reports is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to set limits and to require more explicit labeling.
PepsiCo told Consumer Reports reformulated products containing lower levels of 4-M-E-I would be available nationwide by next month. Goya did not respond to Consumer Reports' questions.