Survey of benzene levels in soft drinks
Friday 31 March 2006
The Food Standards Agency has today published the results of a survey to investigate levels of benzene in 150 soft drinks on sale in the UK. Benzene was not detectable in the majority of products sampled.
Four products (see the table below) contained benzene levels above the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for drinking water and the Agency has asked for these to be removed from sale.
Dr Andrew Wadge, Director of Food Safety at the FSA, said: 'We did this survey to get a clearer picture of whether benzene was present in any soft drinks on sale in the UK and at what levels.
'We found that levels in the vast majority of products tested were low and not a cause for concern. However, we are concerned about the levels in four drinks and have asked their manufacturers to remove the affected batches from sale.
‘We found that levels in the vast majority of products tested were low and not a cause for concern. However we are concerned about the levels in four drinks and have asked their manufacturers to remove the affected batches from sale.’
'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.
'While it is important that industry take action, people should not be alarmed if they have drunk these products.
'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.'
In more than two thirds (107 out of 150) of the samples tested the levels of benzene were undetectable.
A total of 38 samples had levels of benzene between 1 and 10 ppb (parts per billion) - below the guideline level set by the WHO for water of 10 ppb.
People who have inhaled very high levels of benzene in the work place have been found to increase their risk of cancer.
Benzene has been detected at far lower levels in some soft drinks. People would need to drink more than 20 litres of a drink containing benzene at 10 ppb to equal the amount of benzene you would breathe from city air in a day.
The presence of benzene in soft drinks is thought to be a result of interaction between the preservative sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Sodium benzoate is added to drinks to prevent the growth of moulds.
Table of products affected
|Product||Brand||Unit volume||Best before||Batch code||Mean Level|
|Low calorie bitter lemon||Co-op||1 litre||Jun 06||5328 K3A||28 ppb|
|10 Aug 06||L6012, SSTG||11 ppb|
|Still sugar free lemon & lime drink||Popstar||330 ml||22 Apr 06||L5207 SS||17 ppb|
|No added sugar pineapple & grapefruit crush||Morrisons||2 litre||Jul 06||6024 C3||11 ppb|
|High juice no added sugar blackcurrant squash||Hyberry||1 litre||Sep 06||L4 5339||12 ppb|
The Co-op has recalled all batches of its own brand Low Calorie Bitter Lemon, 1 litre carbonated drink, due to the presence of high levels of benzene. The Agency has issued a Food Alert for Information.
The Co-op has undertaken a product recall of all batches. Point of Sale notices appeared in Co-op stores as of yesterday (30 March 2006).
Those notices will advise customers of the reason for the recall and the actions they can take if they have already purchased the affected product.
Food alerts are the FSA's way of letting local authorities and consumers know about problems associated with food and, in some cases, providing details of specific action to be taken. They are issued under two categories:
- Food Alerts: for Action
- Food Alerts: for Information
More about the benzene survey
There is no legal limit for benzene in soft drinks. The Agency has drawn on the WHO guidelines for safe levels in drinking water as an appropriate comparison on which to ask industry to remove products from sale.
The Co-op has removed affected batches of its low calorie bitter lemon from sale. The Agency has asked the three other companies with levels above WHO guidelines to withdraw their products from sale.
The survey involved 150 drinks collected from four regions in the UK (Belfast, London, Manchester and Cambridge).
The samples consisted of squashes, carbonated drinks and ready-to-drink still drinks. The majority of the drinks surveyed were selected as they contained the ingredients sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
The units used in the survey are parts per billion. 1 ppb is 1 part per billion, i.e. 1/1,000,000,000, which is equivalent to 1 microgram per kilogram (1µg/kg).