A recent study conducted by Consumer Reports found 12 brands of soda have varying levels of 4-methylimidazole — an impurity found in some caramel coloring.
Caramel color is the single most used food coloring in the world, according to a 2013 report from market research firms Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research. “There’s no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., toxicologist and executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety & Sustainability Center. “Manufacturers have lower 4-MeI alternatives available to them. Ideally there would be no 4-MeI in food.”
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.
Until the study is completed (and perhaps after) you may think twice about reaching for that soda.