Soft drinks firms pledge routine benzene tests

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Soft drinks European union

Soft drinks makers have been hauled before the European Commission
to explain the presence of benzene traces in drinks, putting the
industry under pressure after recalls in the UK.

Soft drinks firms told the Commission they were developing a new manufacturing guide for benzene in drinks, following the recall of four drinks contaminated with benzene in Britain, a Commission spokesperson told

The guide was expected to advise that "industry should carry out predictive testing simulating long storage, reformulate where possible to avoid the formation of benzene and monitor [drinks] by including benzene in routine tests,​ he said.

Concerns about benzene residues in soft drinks have spread, after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first told​ in February that it had found more benzene in some drinks than is allowed for drinking water in the US.

Both the FDA and the UK's Food Standards Agency, which has found benzene residues in 42 out of 150 drinks tested, said they suspected benzene was being formed by two common ingredients ?sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid ?reacting together in the drinks.

This has, in fact, been known for 15 years by the FDA and US soft drinks association, internal FDA memos show. Authorities made a private deal for industry to "get the word out and reformulate?/I>, an FDA chemist said.

It appears the European Commission did not know until recently.

A Commission letter, dated December 2005 and seen by, states it "is not aware of any scientific evidence relating to the formation of benzene as a result of the use of benzoic acid?/I>.

It has now asked EU Member States to hand over what they know and describe what controls they have in place to monitor benzene in drinks, if any.

The move, together with new production guidelines expected from the industry, is likely to spark debate on what is the acceptable level of benzene in soft drinks. There is currently no legal limit set.

A spokesperson for Britain's FSA said on Monday the agency wanted benzene all but eliminated from soft drinks, and would discuss the issue with industry representatives.

No benzene was detected in 107 out of 150 UK drinks the FSA tested. "These results show that it is technologically possible to produce soft drinks without detectable traces of benzene. This is what we want all manufacturers to do,?/I> it said.

The FSA's stance will put the industry under pressure.

Richard Laming, spokesperson for the British Soft Drinks Association, told​ in March it was near impossible to get benzene levels down to zero in all drinks.

He said controls were in place in the UK. "We have reduced the level of sodium benzoate [in formulations] and remove it where possible. We have a testing programme to make sure levels are as low as possible.?/I>

The FSA, on top of the four recalled drinks, found 38 drinks with benzene between the one part per billion and 10 parts per billion limits for tap water, set by it and the World Health Organisation respectively.

It assured consumers that benzene levels found to date should not pose a health risk.

Michael Knowles, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at Coca-Cola Europe, told that consumers had to understand that sodium benzoate's strong ability to kill bacteria outweighed the risks.

He said soft drinks makers had learnt to control benzene traces in drinks containing ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate. "We know how it is formed and we know how we can minimise the formation.?/I>

Related topics Markets Soft drinks

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