Image: Vinni/Flickr

Yesterday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) formally petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to change legislation on a very popular additive, caramel coloring. Specifically, CSPI requested that the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status for caramel coloring produced with ammonia be revoked:

“…request the Commissioner of Food and Drugs to revoke sections 21 CFR 73.85 and 21 CFR 182.1235 (generally recognized as safe or ‘GRAS’ regulation),… which authorize the use in foods of caramel colorings that are produced by means of an ammonia or ammonia-sulfite process and contain 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, both of which are carcinogenic in animal studies.”

This includes Caramel Coloring III (used in soy sauce, gravy, beer) and Caramel Coloring IV (used in beverages and colas), both of which are produced with ammonia. In the petition, CSPI indicates that reactions occur when carbohydrates and ammonia are used to produce caramel coloring and form by-products including 2- and 4-methylimidazole (“2-MI” and “4-MI” or “4-MEI”).  This chemical pair have been shown carcinogenic in animal studies. One interesting point that CSPI makes is that caramel coloring in soft drinks are typically used to make the soda its customary brown color. This is purely cosmetic and could be substituted with something else or omitted from drinks such as Coke and Pepsi without sacrificing much taste.

The CSPI petition also requested that the FDA change the names which are permitted for these types of caramel coloring and not allow caramel coloring in products which are labeled “natural,” due to the highly processed and chemical nature of these additives.

“… the FDA immediately should change the name ‘caramel coloring’ to ‘chemically modified caramel coloring’ or ‘ammonia-sulfite process caramel coloring’ …and should not allow products to be labeled ‘natural’ if they contained any type of caramel coloring.”

To read the full petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest which includes references, click here.

This information is very relevant to today’s shopper since caramel coloring is found in thousands of foods INCLUDING so called health food.  Start paying attention to this additive as you study your ingredient labels. To read a full report on the different types of caramel coloring, other possible health effects and allergy information, click here.

Sources:
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Image: Vinni via Flickr