Firm establishes legal threshold for the caramel food colouring by-product 4-MEI that California lists as a carcinogen

US drinks giant Pepsico has set limits for 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) in its colas. 4-MEI is a by-product of the production of caramel food colouring and has been designated as a carcinogen in California. A settlement between the company and the non-profit Center for Environmental Health (CEH) sets a target level for 4-MEI of no more than 100 parts per billion for Pepsico products sold in California from the start of next year.

The deal follows a CEH legal complaint seeking civil penalties and alleging that Pepsico violated California’s Proposition 65 law, which requires businesses to notify Californians if their products contain significant levels of any chemical on California’s blacklist. Since 2011, 4-MEI has been included on the Prop 65 list of substances that can cause cancer, meaning products containing the chemical must contain a warning. In the settlement, Pepsico does not admit to liability and does not suggest whether 4-MEI at current exposure limits is harmful to human health. The company has agreed to pay $160,000 (£105,000) to the CEH as part of the settlement and another $165,000 in legal fees.

The US Food and Drug Administration has said that there is no evidence of any immediate or short-term danger from consumption of 4-MEI at levels found in food. The European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada have taken similar positions.

Correction: Pepsi’s settlement was not solely with the CEH