Group finds carcinogen in Pepsi outside California (Chart: Full results of carcinogen testing)

Stephen Dettling/Flickr Creative Commons

The Pepsi sign above the New York Mets Pepsi Porch.

An environmental group said Wednesday that the caramel coloring used in Pepsi still contains a worrisome level of a carcinogen, even after the drink maker said it would change its formula.

In March, PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. both said they would adjust their formulas nationally after California passed a law mandating drinks containing a certain level of carcinogens come with a cancer warning label. The changes were made for drinks sold in California when the law passed.

The chemical is 4-methylimidazole, or 4-Mel, which can form during the cooking process and, as a result, may be found in trace amounts in many foods.

Watchdog group The Center for Environmental Health found via testing that while Coke products no longer test positive for the chemical, Pepsi products sold outside of California still do.

Pepsi said its caramel coloring suppliers are changing their manufacturing process to cut the amount of 4-Mel in its caramel. That process is complete in California and will be finished in February 2014 in the rest of the country. Pepsi said it will also be taken out globally, but did not indicate a timeline.

Meanwhile, the company said the FDA and other regulatory agencies around the world consider Pepsi's caramel coloring safe.

Coca-Cola said it has transitioned to using a modified caramel in U.S. markets beyond California that does not contain Mel-4, so it wouldn't have to have separate inventory of products for different locations. It also said all of its products, whether they have the modified caramel or not, are safe.

The watchdog group Center for Environmental Health said it commissioned Eurofins Analystical laboratory in Metairie, La., to test Coke and Pepsi products from California in May and from across the country in June.

The lab did not find the chemical in California products. And it found no 4-Mel in nine out of 10 Coke products outside of the state. But it found levels of 4-Mel that are 4 to 8 times higher than California safety levels in all 10 Pepsi products purchased outside California, according to the Center for Environmental Health.

Trace amounts of 4-Mel have not been linked to cancer in humans. The American Beverage Association said that California added the coloring to its list of carcinogens with no studies showing that it causes cancer in humans. It noted that the listing was based on a single study in lab mice and rats.

The Food and Drug Administration has also said that a consumer would have to drink more than 1,000 cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered that have shown links to cancer in rodents.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo account for almost 90 percent of the soda market, according to industry tracker Beverage Digest.

You can see results of the Center for Environmental Health's investigation below:

Description Store Location Date purchased Lab Results (mg/kg) container size micrograms of 4-MEI per serving times above CA safety level
Bottled Pepsi (produced in Mexico) Super Mercado Mi Tierra #2 Oakland, CA 13-May 0.08 355 28.4  
Bottled Coca Cola Refresco (produced in Mexico) Super Mercado Mi Tierra #2 Oakland, CA 13-May ND 355    
               
Diet Pepsi 12 oz can Walgreens Oakland, CA 13-May 0.09 355 31.95  
Diet Coke 12 oz can Walgreens Oakland, CA 13-May ND 355    
               
Diet Pepsi 7.5 oz can   Little Rock, Arkansas ? 0.64 222 142.08 4.9
Coca-Cola 7.5 oz can   Little Rock, Arkansas ? 0.01 222 2.22  
               
Pepsi H.E.B San Antonio, Texas 11-Jun-2013 0.51 355 181.05 6.2
Coca Cola H.E.B San Antonio, Texas 11-Jun-2013 ND 355    
               
Pepsi   Milwaukee, Wisconsin ? 0.36 355 127.8 4.4
Diet Coke, Caffeine Free   Milwaukee, Wisconsin ? ND 355    
               
Pepsi 7-Eleven Orlando, Florida 11-Jun-2013 0.52 355 184.6 6.4
Coca Cola 7-Eleven Orlando, Florida 11-Jun-2013 ND 355    
               
Pepsi Open Pantry Evanston, Illinois ? 0.57 355 202.35 7.0
Coca Cola Open Pantry Evanston, Illinois ? ND 355    
               
Pepsi Walgreens Shaker Heights, Ohio 12-Jun-2013 0.56 355 198.8 6.9
Coca Cola Walgreens Shaker Heights, Ohio 12-Jun-2013 ND 355    
               
Pepsi Throwback Made With Real Sugar   St. Louis, Missouri ? 0.68 355 241.4 8.3
Coca Cola   St Louis, Missouri ? ND 355    
               
Pepsi Max Zero Calories Beavers Market Ft Collins, Colorado ? 0.41 355 145.55 5.0
Coca Cola Beavers Market Ft Collins, Colorado ? ND 355    
               
Pepsi One- Zero Calories   Gaithersberg, Maryland ? 0.52 355 184.6 6.4
Diet Coke   Gaithersberg, Maryland ? ND 355    
               
Minature Pepsi Shop Rite Lincoln Park, New Jersey 11-Jun-2013 0.53 222 117.66 4.1
Minature Diet Coke Shop Rite Lincoln Park, New Jersey 11-Jun-2013 0.3 222 66.6 2.3
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