YONKERS, N.Y. - Consumer Reports (CR) tested 14 drinks containing both Vitamin C and sodium benzoate for benzene, a potent carcinogen and found at least 2 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene in some samples of Fanta Pineapple soda, Kool-Aid Jammers Orange juice drink (the maker recently eliminated sodium benzoate), and Sunkist Grape and Orange sodas. Highest was one of three samples of Fanta Pineapple soda, at 6 ppb. Federal regulations allow 5 ppb of benzene in bottled or tap water. There’s currently no standard for benzene in soft drinks.
Benzene can form in beverages containing benzoate salts and Vitamin C if certain minerals are present. Heat or light during shipping or storage can increase the amount of benzene formed.
In May 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it found benzene in some samples of beverages at levels far higher than 5 ppb. At press time, the five beverages - AquaCal strawberry-flavored water, Crush Pineapple soda, Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange drink, Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail, and Safeway Select Diet Orange soda - had not been pulled from the store shelves by the manufacturers or the FDA. According to the FDA, the levels it found in its tests do not pose an acute health hazard.
CR’s test findings suggest that consumers may want to leave beverages that combine benzoate salts with Vitamin C on the shelf. For all the tested products, CR tested at least 3 samples using a method designed to avoid overestimating benzene. Further, to mimic conditions that can boost benzene formation, such as shipping or storage, CR stored three to five samples of each of the 11 tested beverages that don’t need refrigeration under florescent light in a 90º F chamber for three to four weeks. CR found levels ranging from 7 to 30 ppb in some samples of four products: Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange, Fanta Orange and Pineapple sodas, and Sunkist Orange soda.
While experts consulted agree that ingesting benzene at the levels the FDA found typically would not present an acute health risk, Consumers Union believes any exposure to a known carcinogen carries some risk, and that it makes sense to take precautions.
Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, thinks the FDA should restrict benzene in all beverages to the limit set for drinking water and require manufacturers to take steps to prevent benzene formation by changing products’ formulation or manufacturing process.
CR recommends that consumers take the following precautions:
– Read ingredient labels. Beverages that combine benzoate salts with Vitamin C can set the stage for benzene formation. You may want to leave those on the shelf.
– If you do buy beverages with that combination of ingredients, store them in a cool place and out of direct light.
The October 2006 issue of Consumer Reports is on sale Sept. 5 wherever magazines are sold. To subscribe, call 1-800-765-1845.
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