Friday, February 17, 2006

Benzene Contamination In Some USA Soft Drinks

I read a disturbing news release today regarding a problem that apparently the FDA had been fully aware of 15 years ago -- but never made their findings public.
The FDA was originally alerted in 1990 to the problem of benzene in soft drinks triggered by the preservative sodium benzoate. It never made the findings public, but came to an arrangement with the US soft drinks association that the industry would “get the word out”. - NutraIngredients
Benzene is listed as a poisonous chemical shown to increase the risk of leukaemia and other cancers -- and can be caused by two common ingredients – sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) – which can react together to cause benzene formation.

The FDA knew about the problem as far back as 1990 (from what I can tell by some isolated reports) but they never made their findings public. Instead, according to the news item referenced above, they came to an arrangement with the US soft drinks association that the industry would “get the word out”.
But in recent months, internal documents and private tests have begun to surface, supported by claims from a former chemist for Cadbury Schweppes, who is now keen to blow the whistle on the health risk involved. He and a US lawyer commissioned new tests that have now prompted the FDA to re-open the case.

These independent tests, performed by a laboratory in New York, found benzene levels in a couple of soft drinks two-and-a-half-times and five times above the World Health Organisation limit for drinking water (10 parts per billion).

The FDA now confirms it has found a similar problem in its own follow-up testing. “There were a few isolated products that have elevated levels. We certainly want to make sure there is some reformulation,” said an FDA chemist.
All food additives are regulated by federal authorities and various international organizations to ensure that foods are safe to eat and are accurately labeled. Here in the USA, the FDA has the primary legal responsibility for determining a food additive's safe use.

The FDA must determine - based on the best science available - if there is a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers when an additive is used as proposed.

If new evidence suggests that a product already in use may be unsafe, or if consumption levels have changed enough to require another look, federal authorities may prohibit its use or conduct further studies to determine if the use can still be considered safe.

How is sodium benzoate used?

According to IPCS, a major market for sodium benzoate is as a preservative in the soft drink industry, as a result of the demand for high-fructose corn syrup in carbonated beverages. Sodium benzoate is also widely used as a preservative in pickles, sauces, and fruit juices. Benzoic acid and sodium benzoate are used as antimicrobial agents in edible coatings.

Sodium benzoate is also used in pharmaceuticals for preservation purposes (up to 1.0% in liquid medicines) and for therapeutic regimens in the treatment of patients with urea cycle enzymopathies.

Possibly the largest use of sodium benzoate, accounting for 30-35% of the total demand (about 15 000 tonnes of benzoic acid), is as an anticorrosive, particularly as an additive to automotive engine antifreeze coolants and in other waterborne systems. In recent years, it has also been used in the formulation of sodium benzoate into plastics such as polypropylene, to improve strength and clarity. Sodium benzoate is also used as a stabilizer in photographic baths/processing.

NutraIngredients - FDA re-opens probe into benzene contamination of soft drinks
FDA - Food Ingredients & Colors