SAN DIEGO (CN) - Pepsi and Goya Foods sell drinks containing carcinogenic 4-methylimidazole, a byproduct of caramel coloring, a consumer says in separate class actions against the two food giants.
In separate but similar federal lawsuits, lead plaintiff Thamar Santisteban Cortina sued Pepsico and Goya Foods, claiming their drinks contain unsafe levels of 4-methylimidazole and that the labels fail to warn consumers of it.
"Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi One contain an amount of 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), a carcinogen, sufficient to expose California consumers to substantial health risks," Cortina says in the Pepsico complaint. "Pepsi, however, deceptively omits that the Pepsi beverages contain these amounts of 4-MeI."
The Goya complaint contains similar language.
According to both lawsuits: "4-MeI is an impurity generated during the manufacture of caramel colors III and IV used in some soft drinks.
"4-MeI has been found by the National Toxicology Program to cause lung tumors in laboratory animals."
The caramel colors are used in some sodas, beers, coffees and other products, according to California. The state placed 4-MeI on its Proposition 65 list of carcinogens in 2011, after the National Toxicology Program found that it caused lung tumors in laboratory animals, according to the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment .
Under California law, the amount of exposure to 4-MeI that will not cause a significant cancer risk is 29 micrograms per day.
But both lawsuits claim: "According to Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center, 'There is no "safe" level of 4-MeI, but if you have to set a threshold, it should be well below the Prop 65 level (29 micrograms/day) - and more like 3 micrograms/day.' Ragan calls exposure to 4-MeI 'an unnecessary risk.'"
According to the complaint, during testing last year, Pepsi cans contained an average of 29.1 micrograms of 4-Mei, Diet Pepsi contained 30.5 micrograms, and Pepsi One contained 39.5 micrograms.
Similarly, Cortina says that Goya's "Malta Goy" cola soft drinks also contained harmful amounts of the carcinogen as of December 2013 - an average of 316.1 micrograms per 12-ounce serving.
Cortina claims she would not have bought any of these drinks had she known they contained a carcinogen.
In 2011, in response to a petition to the U.S. FDA by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, seeking to ban 4-MeI, the American Beverage Association stated that 4-MeI is not a threat to human health and that consumers "can take confidence in the fact that people have been safely drinking colas for more than a century, as well as consuming the wide variety of foods and beverages containing 4-MeI, from baked goods and breads to molasses and coffee."
The FDA is reviewing data on the safety of 4-MeI and is reassessing consumer exposure to the chemical from the use of caramel coloring in food products. The analysis will help the FDA determine whether any regulatory actions need to be taken, the FDA said on it website .
Cortina seeks class certification and wants the defendants enjoined from selling products containing allegedly dangerous amounts of 4-MeI, and damages for unfair competition, false advertising and consumer law violations.
She is represented by Jack Fitzgerald.
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