TAMPA, Fla. - 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. "There is a risk in there that consumers should be informed about," said Urvashi Rangan with Consumer Reports.
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.
"Some sodas were actually fairly low in their levels of 4-M-E-I, whereas some soft drinks were extremely high," Rangan said.
The highest levels of 4-M-E-I Consumer Reports found were in Malta Goya and in Pepsi One. All the Coca Cola samples were far lower.
"The limitation in this study is a very small sample size, so we can't really draw conclusions about any one given brand," Rangan said.
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.
"Consumers who want to avoid this hazard should avoid caramel color in sodas altogether," Rangan said.
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
Consumer reports told PepsiCo and Goya about its findings. Goya says it is looking into the matter. Pepsi-co says its products sold in California meet the state's requirements for 4-M-E-I and it is voluntarily applying those same standards to the rest of the country within the next month.