AC Alert for March 13, 2012 What's Really in that Can of Soda? Scary Things?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 3:00pm

AC Alert for March 13, 2012
What's Really in that Can of Soda? Scary Things?

The change in Doug has been nothing short of remarkable. At 35 pounds overweight last fall, the 52 year-old banker decided it was time to do something about his health. With the assistance of a nutritionist, he put himself on a low fat diet while also setting up a regular program of exercise.

He had been a big drinker of sweet fruit juices, and was told that one way he could cut back on his caloric intake was by switching to diet soda. So, out went the bottles of juice, and in came 12 packs of diet soda. (Doug drinks both Diet Coke® and Diet Pepsi® so he will buy whichever is on sale at his local supermarket.)

Within six weeks he had dropped over 20 pounds, due in no small measure (he believes) to the change in his liquid refreshment. He will go through 5-6 cans of diet soda a day, but he feels in the long run the overall weight loss will make him healthy and mitigate any effects the heavy soda diet will have.

Then, last week, like a bolt of lightning out of the sky, he heard about a new study just released which claims that both Coke and Pepsi drinks contain carcinogens.

The study was released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington DC-based consumer activist health group. Said CSPI: "New chemical analyses have found that Coca-Cola®, Pepsi-Cola®, Diet Coke®, and Diet Pepsi® contain high levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MI), a known animal carcinogen. The carcinogen forms when ammonia or ammonia and sulfites are used to manufacture the caramel coloring that gives those sodas their distinctive brown colors.”

 CSPI reiterated its call to the US Food and Drug Administration to revoke the agency’s authorization for caramel colorings that contain 4-MI, and in the interim to change the name of the additive to ammonia-sulfite process caramel coloring or chemically modified caramel coloring for labeling purposes.

CSPI said it collected samples from Washington, D.C.-area stores. CSPI claimed that Pepsi’s products had 145 to 153 micrograms (mcg) of 4-MI in two 12-ounce cans. Regular Coca-Cola had 142 mcg per 12 ounces in one sample and 146 mcg in another. Diet Coke had 103 mcg per 12 ounces in one sample and 113 mcg in another.

What to make of all this?

To put those levels into context, the State of California has a 29-microgram benchmark for 4-MI. Levels above that in a serving of food or beverage may be required to bear a warning notice. Based on California’s risk model, CSPI estimates that the 4-MI in the Coke and Pepsi products tested is causing about 15,000 cancers in the U.S. population.

PepsiCo told CSPI that it has switched to a coloring in California that contains much less 4-MI and plans to do the same in the rest of the country." (Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest)

Of course, Doug was devastated after reading the report -- but not everyone concurs with the findings in the CSPI study. The food authority weighed in:  "A person would have to drink more than a thousand cans of soda in a day to match the doses administered in studies that showed links to cancer." (Source: Douglas Karas, US Food and Drug Administration).

So, who to believe? What’s the real story here? Do we face a clear and present danger in drinking sodas -- or is this another instance where the findings of a scientific study are exaggerated well beyond the norm?

These are the type of issues AC addresses in our Focus on Food Safety Hot Topics Section. Food…trust…and provider accountability -- the three words clearly go together in the food and beverage businesses. In the things we put in our bodies:  Trust is everything!

Anything we put in our bodies every day – food, soda, drugs -- should be “trustworthy,” in terms of where it came from and everyone involved in the supply chain should be accountable for their actions (or inaction in certain cases).  From manufacturer to processor to retailer, there is a clear chain of accountability. Trust is the important foundation all along the human food chain and preserving that trust should be an imperative for every player. 

Even here in America, with an abundance of food products unmatched in other nations, and industry risk measures in place, numerous food processing issues arise each year; typically involving incidents of food-borne illnesses originating from such biological hazards as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. These continue to be significant public health threats.

There is heightened interest in food safety issues on the part of consumers and their advocates as well as government officials at the federal, state and local levels. The nation has made great progress in identifying harmful food production technologies, ramping up safety procedures, and adopting rules and regulations and to promote safer methods of handling and preparing foods.  But no system can be 100% fail-safe.

There is always more to be done. The AC Hot Topic Focus on Food Safety section is designed to present timely and useful news and information, a range of commentary, and reports on research on food safety topics. Here are some recent excerpts from that section:

Coke, Pepsi make changes to avoid cancer warning
(Source: Reuters)
 Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo Inc are making changes to the production of an ingredient in their namesake colas to avoid the need to label the packages with a cancer warning.

FDA Skeptical Chemical in Sodas Harmful to Consumers
(Source: Bloomberg Business Week) U.S. regulators, reviewing an advocacy group’s complaint that a chemical used in colas causes tumors in animals, said there’s no immediate risk to consumers from the substance. A person would have to drink more than a thousand cans of soda in a day to match the doses administered in studies that showed links to cancer in rodents, according to Douglas Karas, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesman.

FDA to decide on BPA-use in food packaging by March 31
(Source: CBS News) The FDA said they will issue a ruling about the use of BPA in food and beverage packaging by March 31, 2012. The inquiry is a result of a National Resources Defense Council 2008 lawsuit and petition, asking that the FDA ban the potentially hazardous component. BPA, or Bisphenol-A, is found in a variety of food packaging, including Campbell's Soup cans.

Campbell's Soup Phasing Out BPA Use in Cans
(Source: Food Safety News) Although it maintains that the bisphenol A (BPA) in its cans is safe, the Campbell Soup Company says it has already switched to alternatives in some packaging as it ends the use of the controversial chemical. Craig Owens, Campbell's senior vice president, chief financial and administrative officer, said the company thinks BPA is safe, but is nevertheless reacting to public concern.

USDA begins tweeting food recall alerts
(Source: Des Moines Register) Anyone with a Twitter account can now be among the first to know about food recalls with a new service from the Department of Agriculture. The USDA says state-specific food safety alerts for meat, poultry, and processed egg products are included as well as information on how to protect food during severe weather events. Previously, recalls were only announced in news releases and on a general USDA Twitter feed.

Safety concerns, industry changes push U.S. to rethink approach to food inspection  
(Source: Washington Post) The USDA and the FDA are under pressure to overhaul their dramatically different food inspection procedures, in essence bringing them closer together. There’s a growing recognition among food-safety experts that the government can be smarter about tackling food-borne hazards that sicken one in six Americans each year and kill about 3,000.

Food safety: Response team, targeted spending could improve current system, experts say
(Source: Denver Post) Colorado should create a rapid-response team of farmers, university scientists and health workers to help with an investigation and get to a farm faster after a food-borne illness outbreak, according to experts at a state agriculture conference last week. Also, federal and state agencies should target high-risk foods, including cantaloupe, instead of spreading limited money too thin. The Governor's Forum on Colorado Agriculture focused on food safety after the deadliest U.S. food-borne illness outbreak in at least 25 years. Melons contaminated with listeria from a Holly, Colorado area farm have been linked to 32 deaths nationwide.


When Should Recalls Be Made Public?
(Source: Food Safety News) Spurred on by a two month delay by the FDA in reporting a recall of some 228,360 pounds of curly leaf spinach, reporter James Andrews explores the time lines for public food recalls.


AC editors have one important objective in presenting our Focus on Food Safety Hot Topic: To improve and expand the public dialogue and contribute to the goal of safer food sources, processing and monitoring for all citizens.

As always, we are interested in your comments on this important topic. Do you feel that more should be done to protect the public? Or are the “studies” which are often cited by consumer advocates simply examples of over-reaction. We invite you to contact us with your thoughts. Send information or comments to

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