Press release: Benzene in soft drinks


<div>Toward the end of February, news about the possibility of benzene being formed in soft drinks under certain conditions as a result of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) reacting with sodium benzoate attracted attention. Both of these ingredients are commonly used as additives in soft drinks, and also naturally present in foodstuffs. </div>

Sodium benzoate is a preservative that prevents microbiological contamination. Ascorbic acid is used in soft drinks as an oxidation inhibitor to protect the colour and the taste of the beverage.

EU countries and the beverage industry have investigated benzene levels in both soft drinks and juices. Results have been published in e.g. Sweden, England and Ireland, and also Denmark, Belgium and Norway, for example, are known to have carried out investigations. 

What is benzene?
Benzene is a carcinogen and a neurotoxic, which is present in many different sources. According to the British Ministry of Health, the estimated average total intake of benzene is ca. 400 micrograms per day. Most of the intake is from breathing air, traffic emissions and cigarettes being important sources (the smoke of one cigarette may contain 50-150 micrograms of benzene). According to American evaluations, people ingest about 5 micrograms of benzene every day from foodstuffs.

A maximum limit for benzene content has only been defined for drinking water. The limit specified by WHO is 10 micrograms/litre, while FDA in USA has set the limit to 5 micrograms/litre and EU countries, including Finland, to 1 microgram/litre. No maximum benzene content has been defined for soft drinks or other foodstuffs. 

In Finland, beverage manufacturers Hartwall, Marli, Olvi, Sinebrychoff and VIP-Juicemaker have had samples of their own brands as well as samples of Coca Cola and PepsiCo products manufactured under a licence analysed in the past month. So far, results have been obtained for ca. 40 samples.

Analyses have been performed on samples of various ages, some intentionally stored at a high temperature for long periods of time. As could be expected, the samples stored in incorrect conditions showed higher levels of benzene.

The benzene content of all the analysed juice samples (5 samples) was less than 1 microgram/litre. The results for the soft drinks in the market were also quite low (less than 1 microgram/litre), with a few exceptions. For samples that showed elevated levels of benzene, the beverage industry has started assessments of the manufacturing recipes and shelf times. The National Food Agency recommends that products with a benzene level in excess of the 10 micrograms/litre defined by WHO as the maximum limit for drinking water are withdrawn from the market.

The beverage industry continues their own investigations, and the National Food Agency has decided to analyse soft drinks marketed by other manufacturers for their benzene content. The results will be submitted to the EU Commission for deliberation and decisions on any action to be taken will be made at EU level.

For more information, please contact:
National Food Agency
- Ms. Auli Suojanen, Director, Food Control Unit, tel. +358 (0) 9 393 1513
- Ms. Taina Rautio, Senior Officer, tel. +358 (0) 9 393 1589 (on 18 and 19 March 2006)
- Ms. Anja Hallikainen, Senior Officer, Food Control, tel. +358 (0) 9 393 1540 (as of 19 April 2006)

Finnish Food and Drink Industries' Federation
- Mr. Seppo Heiskanen, Director, tel. +358 (0) 9 148 87230, 0400 612 329

Related Categories: