Benzene in Soft Drinks

Benzene StructureThis is an update to my earlier posting about benzene in soda.

Today, March 31, the UK’s Food Standards Agency has published the results of an analytical survey of benzene levels in 150 soft drinks on the market in the UK. They state that contrary to fears, benzene was not detectable in the majority of products sampled.

However, four products did contain trace amounts of benzene that are above World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for drinking water and the FSA has ordered these to be withdrawn. An FSA spokesman explained that while the levels of this potential carcinogen are very low it is prudent for the sake of public confidence that products that contain more than the WHO suggests is acceptable should not be sold.

The issue does not address the growing fear of risk that has become endemic in Western society, but once again reinforces the negative image of “chemicals” among consumers. This is despite the fact that one of the ingredients that leads to the benzene forming in such products in the first place is vitamin C!

The FSA spokesman adds that “The levels of benzene reported in this survey will only make a negligible impact on people’s overall exposure to benzene and so any additional risk to health is, therefore, likely to be minimal.” This should be considered in the much wider context of everyday benzene sources to which a lot of people are exposed on a daily basis, vehicle fuels and cigarette smoke, for instance.

The four drinks being withdrawn from supermarket shelves all list sodium benzoate and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) as ingredients and are: Co-op brand “low calorie bitter lemon”, Popstar “still sugar free lemon & lime drink”, Morrisons brand “no added sugar pineapple & grapefruit crush”, and Hyberry “High juice no added sugar blackcurrant squash”.

It is only certain batches of these products that contain benzene at levels above WHO guidelines, but the FSA is essentially presenting the drinks industry with an ultimatum that could see an end to a consumer issue that has been known about for at least fifteen years.

More information on the FSA report is available here.