Japanese soft drink breaks benzene limit

By Sean Roach

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Soft drinks

Japanese food safety authorities have found unacceptable levels of
the carcinogen benzene in a nationally distributed soft drink.

The Japanese Ministry of Health (JMH) has asked the Tokyo-based company DHC to recall its Aloevera drink after finding it contained seven times the acceptable levels of benzene.

Three samples of the Aloevera drink were found to contain 73.6 ppb (parts per billion) of benzene, which exceeds the 10 ppb standard set by the World Health Organization.

JMH officials were quick to point out that the amounts detected were not harmful to humans and that any recall would be a voluntary act byDHC.

The UK department of health estimates that people in urban areas may be exposed to nearly 400 ppb of benzene per day due to emissions from motor vehicles, service stations and industrial facilities.

The JMH began inspecting soft drinks after a report in March by the Japanese Consumer Press found numerous soft drinks with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and sodium benzoate - two additives that can mix to form cancer-causing benzene.

JMH officials ran tests on 31 different soft drinks that contained the potentially dangerous additives. Out of all 31, DHC's product was the only one found to contain benzene levels above safety standards.

Pressure for governments to crack down on benzene levels was sparked off in February this year after a BeverageDaily.com investigation confirmed that both the US FDA and the American soft drinks association have known about exorbitant levels of benzene in soft drinks for 15 years, but had keep it under wraps.

The news sent national regulators to the labs, testing beverages from Ireland to India for high-levels of benzene. The testing has led to product recalls and legal suits against major manufacturers, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft and Cadbury Schweppes.

Benzene is a known human carcinogen and can form in drinks during their shelf-life when vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid combines with either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate, which are common preservatives used to prevent bacteria growth in drinks. The formation of benzene in soft drinks is often exacerbated when the beverages are stored for extended periods at elevated temperatures.

Evidence indicates that sweeteners, such as sugar, high fructose corn or starch syrup, can delay the reaction as the phenomenon seems most noticeable in diet beverages.

As of publishing, DHC has not commented on the potential recall of their product in Japan.

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