The agency is investigating the ingredient after a Consumer Reports study found many sodas with levels of 4-methylimidazole that are questionable. The report included 12 soda brands from five different makers sold in California.
Research on the safety of the caramel coloring isn’t consistent, but in California, the chemical is considered a carcinogen and is supposed to be labeled if the amount passes a threshold of 29 micrograms. In the Consumer Reports analysis, two soda products — Pepsi One and the beverage Malta Goya — had levels beyond 29 micrograms. And according to the Associated Press, companies like Coke and Pepsi have asked suppliers to reduce the labeling threshold.
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is looking into the matter, but so far, the Associated Press reports, decades of studies on the chemical show there is no known health risk to humans. The FDA will consider new data to determine whether consumers’ exposure to the coloring is affecting their health. The chemical can also form when meat is grilled and coffee beans are roasted.