Now it's tested several brands of pancake syrups. The results underscore why consumers should be aware of how much food they eat that lists caramel color on the label.
There's nothing like thick, rich syrup on a stack of pancakes to tempt the appetite. Christina Acocella says she uses real maple syrup because she knows exactly what's in it.
"It has no chemicals and it's pure. And the kids love the taste," says Christine
But Americans often opt for less expensive caramel-colored table syrup, which Consumer Reports tests show can have elevated levels of a chemical called 4-M-E-I.
Consumer Reports Safety Director Dr. Urvashi Rangan explained, "4 MeI is found in two kinds of caramel color that are used to make syrups brown. We're concerned because this chemical has been shown to cause cancer in mice and is a possible human carcinogen."
Consumer Reports tested samples of popular table syrups and found all of them contained 4-M-E-I. They're Hungry Jack Original, Aunt Jemima Original and Original Lite, Mrs. Butterworth's Original and Log Cabin Original.
"Our sample size was not big enough to be able to recommend one brand over another. But we do know that how much and how often people eat syrup can increase their cancer risk," said Dr. Rangan.
If you eat syrup twice a week, around a quarter of a cup each time, that would carry close to a negligible lifetime cancer risk. But if you eat syrup daily, as some children do, that cancer risk can increase significantly.
"4 -MeI in syrup is less of a concern than in soft drinks because people tend to consume far less syrup. However, you can also be exposed to 4-MeI from some caramel colors in many other food products," explained Dr. Rangan.
For instance, caramel color is listed as an ingredient in some breads, cereals and barbecue sauce and if it is the type with 4-M-E-I that may also increase cancer risk.
You can't tell by looking at a food label if it has the types of caramel coloring that contain 4-M-E-I. Consumer Reports has asked the government to regulate the chemical and set limits on how much is allowed in food.
You can find out more about Consumer Reports' earlier tests of 4-M-E-I in soft drinks here: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/01/caramel-color-the-health-risk-that-may-be-in-your-soda/index.htm
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