Information update

Archive – Health Canada Releases Final Results of Study of Benzene Levels in Beverages

Starting date:
June 9, 2006
Posting date:
June 9, 2006
Type of communication:
Information Update
Non-permitted Food Ingredients
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Important Safety Information, Product Safety
General Public
Identification number:

Health Canada has released the results of its survey of benzene levels in selected beverages sold in Canada. Based on these results, Health Canada has confirmed the safety of these products.

Health Canada's study found that in more than 80 percent of the 118 products tested, benzene was either not detected or found at levels below the lowest concentration that can be reliably measured. Overall, four products were found that had levels above the Canadian guideline of five micrograms per litre for benzene in drinking water.

While these four products did have benzene levels above the guidelines for drinking water, Health Canada scientists found that exposure to benzene through these beverages does not pose a health concern. In addition, the potential exposure to benzene from beverage consumption would constitute a relatively small portion of overall lifetime exposure from other sources.

Nonetheless, Health Canada has worked with the manufacturers to address this issue and where necessary, the beverage industry has responded by reformulating products.

Benzene is a known human carcinogen and can form in drinks when ascorbic acid combines with either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate, which are common preservatives used to prevent bacteria growth.

However the presence of ascorbic acid and benzoates alone does not lead to the formation of benzene. Certain conditions are required for trace levels of benzene to form, including heat, ultraviolet light and metallic ions in the mixture.

Trace amounts of benzene were first found in soft drinks in the early 1990s. At that time, Health Canada and other regulatory agencies, including the United States Food and Drug Administration, worked with the soft drink industry to determine how the benzene was formed and what production practices were required to remedy the situation. This experience has shown that by controlling processing conditions and formulation, trace amounts of benzene can be virtually eliminated.

Although the scientific evidence continues to support the safety of soft drinks and other beverages sold in Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will continue to work with the beverage industry to ensure that the formation of benzene during manufacturing is eliminated from beverages sold in Canada.

Many countries, including the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, have reached similar conclusions as Canada after conducting their own studies.

To view the complete results, please view Health Canada's benzene study.

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