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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Private label sodas from two supermarket chains were among the soft drink products tested over a number of months by the FDA that were found to contain the cancer-causing chemical benzene in some soft drinks, but not at high enough levels to cause harm, the U.S. agency said last Friday.
According to a Reuters news report, five out of more than 100 beverages tested by the FDA had benzene in amounts exceeding the limit set for U.S. drinking water, which is 5 parts per billion.
The agency said it has asked manufacturers to minimize or eliminate benzene levels in their products, and that all of the makers contacted have reformulated the drinks or are in the process of doing so, FDA officials said.
The agency tested samples of soft drinks and other beverages from November 2005 through April 2006. The benzene amounts detected "do not pose a safety concern for consumers," the FDA said in a statement.
Most products had very low levels of benzene or none that was detected, said Dr. Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety, in the Reuters report.
"Some levels were as high as 88 parts per billion, according to data posted on the FDA Web site. There is no limit set for soft drinks but regulators believe benzene levels should be minimal," Tarantino said.
The drinks with benzene exceeding five parts per billion were certain lots of Safeway Inc.'s Safeway Select Diet Orange; Ahold unit Giant Food Inc.'s Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail; Cadbury Schweppes Plc's Crush Pineapple; Meridian Beverage Co.'s AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage, and Kraft Food Inc.'s Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange.
Safeway reformulated its Select Diet Orange soda before it was contacted by the FDA, company spokeswoman Teena Massingill told Reuters.
Benzene can form in soft drinks that contain vitamin C and chemicals called benzoate salts when they are exposed to light or high temperatures, the FDA said.
The agency looked into the presence of benzine in soft drinks recently after receiving complaints from consumer groups.
"In November 2005, FDA had received private laboratory results reporting low levels of benzene in a small number of soft drinks that contain benzoate preservatives and ascorbic acid," said Robert E. Brackett, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at FDA, in a letter to the Environmental Working Group written in March. "As follow-up to these findings, FDA began collecting and analyzing a small sample of beverages with a focus on those products that contain both benzoate and ascorbic acid.
"FDA is also following up with companies whose samples of products were found to contain elevated levels of benzene in our initial survey," said Brackett in the letter. "Once FDA has completed its beverage survey we will determine what, if any, additional action is necessary to protect the public health and to ensure that the levels of benzene in soft drinks marketed in the future are as low as possible."