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Cancer-causing Chemical in Coca Cola and Pepsi

Coca cola is among the top popular drinks in the world. Previously, Coca Cola has been blamed as a contributor to increasing rates of obesity due to high sugar content.  This prompted the company to develop diet coke. Coca Cola woes did not stop there, recent laboratory test have found out that Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi contain high levels of cancer causing chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4MEI). This is a colourant chemical that gives these drinks the distinctive brown colour.

The red flag was raised by American watchdog, the Centre for Science in Public Interest (CSPI) who commissioned the test.

The fact that 4MEI does not contribute to flavour means that it is not necessary but just a ‘cosmetic’ additive.

In the whole world, only the state of California has set a limit of 4MEI in foods to 29 microgram per serving of food or drink.  Astonishingly, Coca Cola contains 142 -146 micrograms in a 350 ml can or bottle which is almost four times above the limit. Pepsi on the other hand has even higher quantities 145 – 153micrograms.

CSPI estimates that coke and pepsi are causing 15,000 cancer cases in US population in a year.

It seems that Coca Cola and Pepsi companies are for once acknowledging the danger their product poses to the public since they have lowered or switched to different colourants in their products sold in the state of California.

Ideally no level of carcinogen is ‘safe’ even at very low levels. This is because we are exposed to a wide range of risk factors, what we least expect is another risk factor however low.

Although the amounts of the suspect chemicals used in studies are normally far and above what humans would consume in a day, it is sensible to eliminate these chemicals from food chain especially when they serve no nutritional benefit.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will probably join in soon to regulate this chemical or eliminate it in product sold in their countries. However, it remains to be seen if developing countries that provide a big market share of these products will be protected or they will still keep receiving products with high levels of 4MEI


Bryant Furlow (2012). Cola colourant carcinogenicity claims. The Lancet Oncology, 13, 4, April 2012 pg e 46.



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