You are on page 1of 12

Investigation into the levels of

benzene in soft drinks, squashes


and flavoured waters
May 2008

The results presented in this report relate solely to the individual samples/batches
tested and do not necessarily reflect the general status of the products listed. Where
elevated benzene levels were detected, these were brought to the attention of the
relevant manufacturer or supplier and were addressed in a satisfactory way.

Table of Contents
Summary ............................................................................................ 3
Introduction ....................................................................................... 4
Survey details ..................................................................................... 6
Results ................................................................................................ 6
Conclusion.7
References.12

Table 1: Levels of benzene detected in soft drinks8

Summary

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has a statutory responsibility to ensure
the safety of food consumed, distributed, produced and sold on the Irish market. In
order to achieve this aim, the FSAI inter alia coordinates the collation of food safety
surveillance information from laboratories run by its official agencies, the Health
Service Executive, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Marine
Institute, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) and the local authorities. The
FSAI also conducts targeted food safety surveillance in areas where potential safety
issues have been identified.
In mid-February 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that
some soft drinks were contaminated with the chemical benzene at levels above the
World Health Organization (WHO) limit for drinking water of 10 parts per billion
(ppb). Benzene can be produced in soft drinks through the interaction of sodium
benzoate (E211) and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) (E300). In light of these reports, the
FSAI carried out a survey on benzene in 2006 in order to establish the levels of
benzene present in soft drinks and other beverages available on the Irish market1. A
recommendation of the 2006 survey was that the FSAI should continue to regularly
monitor the levels of benzene in soft drinks and other beverages. Therefore, this
current study is a direct follow up to that recommendation. In this present study, the
FSAI, in conjunction with the Galway Public Analysts Laboratory, sampled 63
samples of soft drinks, squashes and flavoured waters available on the Irish market, in
order to establish the levels of benzene present therein. Determination of benzene
levels was made on the samples as purchased. Single samples of each product were
taken at retail level and therefore, the results of this survey can only indicate a limited
picture of the status of benzene contamination in soft drinks on the Irish market. This
report provides the results of this targeted surveillance study.
Out of the 63 samples tested, 54 (86%) did not contain detectable levels of benzene
and 97% of samples had benzene levels below 10 parts per billion (ppb). Two
samples analysed contained benzene above 10 ppb, which is the WHO limit for
drinking water and was used as the guideline action limit in this survey in the absence
of legislative limits. The two samples which exceeded the WHO limit were analysed
as purchased. However, it should be noted that both of these samples require dilution
before consumption, as recommended by the manufacturers on the product label.
Therefore, once the recommended dilution factors have been applied to these two
samples, the resultant benzene levels are well below the WHO limit. Nevertheless,
the FSAI has followed up these slightly elevated levels with the respective retailers
and distributors involved, in order to alert them to the results found for these
particular products and corrective action was taken.
The results of this study show that the levels of benzene measured in soft drinks,
squashes and flavoured waters which are available on the Irish market are generally
very low, and do not pose a safety concern for consumers of these products. These
findings show an improvement to those found in the 2006 survey, with no samples
above the WHO limit of 10 ppb once dilution of the samples were taken into account.
These results also concur with those found by other agencies both at EU and
international level. The FSAI will continue to periodically monitor products for
benzene and other chemical contaminants, in order to safeguard the health of
consumers in Ireland.
3

Introduction

In mid-February 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported the
results of tests showing that some soft drinks were contaminated with the chemical
benzene at levels above the World Health Organization limit for drinking water of 10
parts per billion (ppb). The problem had originally been identified in the early 1990s,
when it was demonstrated in laboratory trials that benzene could be produced in soft
drinks through the interaction of the preservative sodium benzoate (E211) and
ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) (E300) or erythrobic acid, which is also known as Dascorbic acid. The benzoates are preservatives and can occur naturally, for instance,
in cranberries. Benzoates are used in beverages to inhibit the growth of bacteria,
yeasts and moulds. A maximum amount of 150 mg/L benzoates may be added to
non-alcoholic flavoured beverages (except milk based beverages). Ascorbic acid can
also occur naturally in many berries and fruit, but can also be added as an antioxidant
in order to maintain colour and other quality characteristics. No maximum numerical
limits for ascorbic acid are laid down in EU legislation. However, in accordance with
the quantum satis principle, ascorbic acid shall be used in accordance with good
manufacturing practice, at a level not higher than is necessary to achieve the intended
purpose and provided that it does not mislead the consumer. The presence of these
two food additives in food products must be declared by their functional class
followed by their specific name or EC number in the ingredients list on the food
packaging or label, in accordance with the EU legislation on food labelling.
The formation of benzene in soft drinks is often exacerbated when the beverages are
stored for extended periods at elevated temperatures. Light can also promote benzene
formation. Evidence indicates that nutritive sweeteners (sugar, high fructose corn or
starch syrup) can delay the reaction as the phenomenon seems most noticeable in diet
beverages, however the longer the shelf-life of a product, the greater potential for
benzene formation if its precursors are present. There is also some evidence to
suggest that ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA), which is used as a sequestrant,
may mitigate the reaction by complexing metal ions that may act as catalysts. EDTA
is an approved additive in the EU, but it is only permitted in a small number of
products and to date, it is not approved for use in soft drinks. The structure of
benzene is given in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The structure of benzene

The initial FDA report attracted widespread media attention, because exposure of
humans to benzene has been associated with leukaemia and other blood disorders.
Benzene is a solvent that was widely used in the past and is still used in industry and
in a variety of applications. These applications include its use as an additive in
unleaded petrol. It is found in air, particularly in urban areas, as a result of emissions
from motor vehicle exhaust, service stations and industrial emissions. Benzene also
occurs naturally at a low level in some foodstuffs of plant origin. People are therefore
exposed routinely to benzene via their environment. The PEOPLE project2 estimated
the levels of benzene in Dublin city and recorded a median city background level of
2.1g/m3 (0.66ppb). It also assessed different population groups and found that
exposure to benzene was the greatest among the volunteers that smoked. According
to the WHO, cigarettes have been found to have a mean benzene content of 395.3g
per cigarette, making smoking and second-hand smoke sources of benzene exposure3.
Benzene is considered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to
be a human carcinogen inducing a variety of different types of leukaemias in
occupationally exposed workers4. Like all carcinogenic substances for which no
toxicological threshold value can be indicated, benzene intake should be minimised
and/or avoided as far as possible in line with preventive consumer protection. Over
the last number of years, the European soft drinks industry, represented by UNESDA,
has been working with regulatory authorities in order to reduce and where possible, to
completely eliminate the formation of benzene, whilst still ensuring the
microbiological stability and quality of soft drinks. Industry has produced a guidance
document to mitigate the formation of benzene in soft drinks5 and this was presented
at the EC Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health, Toxicological
Safety held in Brussels at the end of March, 2006. Industry reported that levels in soft
drinks are typically found at the analytical limit of detection (1-5 ppb) and always
below 10 ppb. There are currently no legal limits for benzene that apply directly to
finished soft drinks. There are several regulatory guidelines and limits set for
drinking water and bottled water ranging from the World Health Organization limit of
10 ppb, to the U.S. EPA/FDA level of 5 ppb and the EU level of 1 ppb. However, as
a result of discussions at an EC Standing Committee meeting in 2006, a consensus
was reached among the EU Member States that a general approach should be taken
and a limit for control and enforcement purposes should be set for benzene and an
action limit of 10 ppb was proposed.
Since 2006, a number of surveys have been carried out by food safety agencies and
other bodies throughout the EU and also on an international scale, in order to
ascertain the levels of benzene present in beverages. These include a previous survey
carried out by the FSAI in 20061 in which 76 samples of soft drinks, squashes and
flavoured waters available on the Irish market were tested for benzene. The data from
these surveys indicate that for the majority of products analysed, benzene could either
not be detected or was present at levels that were too low to reliably measure.

Survey Details
Individual samples were purchased from various retailers and were analysed at the
end of May and beginning of June 2007. The samples consisted of concentrates
(squashes), carbonated and non-carbonated drinks and some flavoured waters. All
samples were analysed as purchased, including the squashes which normally require
dilution prior to consumption, in line with the manufacturers instructions.
The analysis method used for the determination of benzene was an accredited method
and involved headspace sample pre-treatment and gas Chromatography (GC) coupled
with mass spectrometry detection (MS). A recovery factor of 0.94 was applied to all
results. The limit of quantitation (LOQ) for the method was 1 ppb.

Results
The results of this survey are presented in Table 1 and from this it can be seen that
nine of the sixty three samples contained benzene above the limit of quantitation
(LOQ) of 1 ppb. From these nine samples, only two products containing added
benzoates had benzene levels above the 10 ppb WHO limit for drinking water. These
two samples were a Tesco low calorie lemon drink concentrate which had a benzene
level of 18.1 ppb and a Roses diabetic orange squash which had a level of 18.3 ppb.
However, it must be stressed that these levels were found in the concentrated product
as purchased and did not take into account the dilution factor of 1 in 5 as
recommended by the manufacturers on the label. Once the dilution factor is applied
to these two products, the levels found were well below the WHO threshold limit of
10 ppb.
Despite the fact that both products were below the WHO limit once dilution was
performed, both Tesco and Musgraves (distributors of the Roses diabetic orange
squash) were informed about the slightly elevated benzene levels found in these
products. In the case of the Tesco low calorie lemon drink, the manufacturers revisited the original test results for this product and confirmed that the benzene levels
were within acceptable limits at the time of production. Tesco intended to remove
sodium benzoate from this range of drinks by April 2008. For the Roses diabetic
orange squash product, Musgraves has informed the FSAI that it has discontinued this
product line and no longer supplies it to its stores.
The limitations of the data from this survey should be noted. In all cases, samples of
each product were taken from only one production lot therefore variations from one
production lot of a product to another were not addressed in this survey. The data
may not therefore represent the distribution of benzene in soft drinks and flavoured
waters in the general Irish food supply.

Conclusion
The results indicate that the levels of benzene found in soft drinks, squashes and
flavoured waters to date do not pose a safety concern for consumers. Almost all of
the samples tested in this survey (97%) contained benzene below analytical detection
levels or levels below 10 ppb (the WHO guidelines for safe levels in drinking water
which was used as an appropriate comparator in this survey). These results are
consistent with those found in the previous FSAI study carried out in 20061 and also
with those carried out by other national and international governmental agencies and
those by the beverage industry. Appropriate follow-up action has been taken in
respect of the two products found to contain slightly elevated levels of benzene.
However, it must be stressed that both of these products are in compliance with the
WHO limit once dilution is taken in account. The continued intensive monitoring
worldwide has resulted in manufacturers working to reformulate their products in
order to ensure benzene formation is minimised or eliminated. In addition, the
International Council of Beverage Association (ICBA) has produced a guidance
document for industry on ways to reduce the formation of benzene5.
The FSAI will continue to monitor benzene in these products on an ongoing basis,
and endorses the view that the levels reported in soft drinks are generally very low
resulting in a low risk to health. However, the levels of benzene should be maintained
below 10 ppb and the FSAI will endeavour to take the appropriate action, where
necessary, in order to ensure consumer health protection. These findings support the
conclusion that exposure of the population in Ireland to benzene via soft drinks is very
low and does not raise any concerns for human health.

Table 1: Benzene Results for samples as purchased (not as prepared for consumption).
Sample Number

Brand

Product

BBD

Batch Number

Result (g/L or ppb)

August 07

A049WAA 09:50
7103 18:28 5

<1.0

F1248-2007

Coca Cola

Oasis, Citrus Punch

F1249-2007

Lind House

No added sugar orange squash

April 08

F1250-2007

MiWadi

No added sugar tropical

26.12.07

F1251-2007

C&C

Club Source

8.10.07

F1252-2007

Tesco Value

Lemon low calorie drink

January 08

F1253-2007

C&C

TK Lemonade

19.1.08

F1254-2007

Tesco

Elderflower and lemon flavoured spring water

F1255-2007

Tesco

High Juice Summerfruits squash

F1256-2007

Tesco

Bitter Lemon

August 07

F1257-2007

Tesco

Cloudy Lemonade

October 07

F1258-2007

Finches

Sparkling Orange light

February 08
April 08

November 07

F1259-2007

GlaxoSmithKline

Lucozade energy Orange

October 07

F1260-2007

C&C

H2OH lightly sparkling water with a hint of 7 up

24.10.07

F1261-2007

Dunnes Stores

Lemon Squash

07.12.07

F1262-2007

C&C

TK Orange

29.12.07

F1263-2007

Harneys

PAK Blackcurrant drink

11.12.07

F1264-2007

Kia Ora

Orange Squash with no added sugar

05.12.07

F1265-2007

St. Bernard

Hi fruit sparkling soft drink with real orange juice

F1266-2007

Ballygowan

Hint of Orange and Mango Irish still water

October 07
23.9.07

L7116 19:39
L7113 09:44
7091 20:17 D4
D L7109 13:02
7058 17:12
D7 20:29 7100
70860GG
7118 21:49 C1
0202 2032
167D20:07A
C L71141819
L63411
D L 7088 12:17
L63451
L70641
K4B 70180456
C L 70820239

<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
18.1*
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0

Table 1 (contd): Benzene Results for samples as purchased (not as prepared for consumption).
Sample Number Brand

Product

BBD

F1267-2007

22.9.07

Ballygowan

F1268-2007

Dunnes Stores

Hint of Strawberry and Cherry Irish still water


Sparkling Apricot and Passion fruit Irish spring
water

F1269-2007

Marks & Spencer

Sparkling Florida orange

01.11.07

F1270-2007

Marks & Spencer

16.8.07

F1271-2007

Boots

Lemon and Gingseng


Still cranberry juice spring water drink fortified with
vitamins B&E

08.11.07

F1272-2007

Boots

Sparkling cloudy lemonade spring water drink

22.11.07

F1273-2007

Freeway

Cloudy Lemonade

F1274-2007

Coolwater

Peach naturally flavoured spring water drink

May 07

F1275-2007

Bulmers Ltd

Cidona

21.9.07

August 07

December 07

F1276-2007

Supervalu

Lemon drink

06.3.08

F1277-2007

Mi Wadi

Natures goodness Orange

26.1.08

F1278-2007

Lind House

Sparkling Peach Spring Water

April 08

F1279/2007

Freeway

Iron Brew

December 07

F1280/2007

Freeway

Lemon & Lime

December 07

F1281/2007

Coolwater

Lemon & Lime

May 08

F1282/2007

Coca Cola

Lilt fruit crush pineapple and grapefruit

F1283/2007

GlaxoSmithKline

Lucozade Energy Citrus clear

F1284//2007

Coca Cola

Sprite

F1285/2007

Mi Wadi

Natures Goodness Lime

September 07
October 07
September 07
25.12.07

Batch Number
C L70812201
6234 03:31
08:57 G

SSB L7102 08:41


SSB L7116 06:20
K4D 7169 06:20
7121 19:47
C L70900634
L70651
C L71160819
7107 21:46
K4D 7121 0934
K4D 7116 2201
7123 22:31
BL 1852L72704
157A12:10A
BL2115L71204
L7038 08:17

Result (g/L or ppb)


<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0

Table 1 (contd): Benzene Results for samples as purchased (not as prepared for consumption).
Sample Number Brand

Product

BBD

F1286/2007

Coca Cola

BPM Energy citrus green

May 07

F1287/2007

Tesco

Kick stimulation drink

April 08

F1288/2007

Tesco

Lemon squash no added sugar

January 08

F1289/2007

Tesco

Peach slightly sparkling spring water drink

F1290/2007

Tesco value

Orange low calorie drink

F1291/2007

Coca Cola

Oasis, Summer fruits

F1292/2007

Tesco

Lime cordial

January 08

F1293/2007

Finches

Sparkling Orange

January 08

F1294/2007

Coca Cola

Fanta Icy Lemon

October 07

F1295/2007

Coca Cola

Tanora Tangerine flavoured drink

F1296/2007

Roses

Diabetic Orange squash

F1297/2007

Super Valu

Blackcurrant drink

F1298/2007

Finches

Sparkling rock shandy

F1299/2007

Coca Cola

Fanta Exotic

F1300/2007

C&C

Club diet Orange

11.10.07
January 08
September 07

08.12.07
September 07
10.1.08
October 07
September 07
11.11.07

F1301/2007

C&C

Club Lemon

23.10.07

F1302/2007

C&C

Club Rock Shandy

23.11.07

F1303/2007

C&C

Club Pomegranate

24.10.07

F1304/2007

Mi Wadi

Natures Goodness Lemon

23.10.07

F1305/2007

Country Spring

Orange

November 07

10

Batch Number
08 1228L60112
L2A 7112 10:40
7113 03:43 D4
7102 18:18
7117 17:15 D4
A 071WAA 03:03
7112 22:01 D4
30040855
BL 1857L71204
BL 2316L72303
L1450J 10:38
L70106
3101 2310
DB 0550L71204
07D L7101 1157
07D L7079 1157
L7118 0804
L7114 0128
L7023 20:57
2102 1145

Result (g/L or ppb)


<1.0
<1.0
1.8
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
1.8
<1.0
1.5
<1.0
18.3
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
1.1
<1.0
<1.0
<1.0
3.9

Table 1 (contd): Benzene Results for samples as purchased (not as prepared for consumption).
Sample Number Brand

Product

BBD

F1306/2007

Sunsqueeze

Fruity shots orange and peach

November 07

F1307/2007

Sunsqueeze

Fruity shots still apple and blackcurrant

November 07

F1308/2007

TopStar

Sparkling lemon made with spring water

November 07

F1309/2007

TopStar

Sparkling orange made with Irish spring water

F1310-2007

Explosade

Sparkling original glucose energy drink

January 08
December 07

Batch Number
L7117
L7117
0602 1119
3004 2259
SSB L7113 12:31

Result (g/L or ppb)


<1.0
1.3
1.7
<1.0
<1.0

Notes
<1 = less than reporting limit of 1 g/kg (ppb).
All of the results are reported for the sample as purchased and the results have not been altered to take into account the recommended dilution factors.
*This result as mentioned previously refers to the direct analysis of the sample, however, it is recommended on the product label to dilute 1 in 4 prior to consumption.

11

References
1.

Food Safety Authority of Ireland (2006). Investigation into the levels of


benzene in soft drinks, squashes and flavoured waters. Report available at
http://www.fsai.ie/surveillance/food_safety/chemical/benzene_06/benzene_06
_index.asp

2.

R.A. Field, P. Prez Ballesta, A. Baeza Caracena, I. Nikolova, R. Connolly, N.


Cao, M. Gerboles, D. Buzica, L. Amantini, F. Lagler, A. Borowiak, L.
Marelli, G. De Santi and E. De Saeger (2005). Population Exposure to Air
Pollutants in Europe (PEOPLE), Methodological Strategy and Basic Results.
EUR 21810 EN.

3.

European Commission Joint Research Centre (2005). Human Exposure


Characterization (HEXPOC) of chemical substances; quantification of
exposure routes p 36-59, EU 21501 EN.

4.

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (1987). Overall


evaluations of carcinogenicity: an updating of IARC Monographs volumes 142: 120-122 (IARC Monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to
humans). Lyon (France).

5.

International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA) (2006). Guidance


document to migrate the potential for benzene formation in beverages. The
guidance document can be accessed from the ICBA website at
http://www.icba-net.org/ICBA-Benzene-Guidance.pdf

12