Unless you drink 400 cups a day, every day of your life. But then, 400 servings of just about anything every day of your life would probably cause cancer. Not to mention a host of other issues.
Why has this become a topic? Especially in a time when the health benefits of moderate coffee consumption have become widely known?
California has this nifty law called Proposition 65 that requires the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects. That list currently includes approximately 800 chemicals. Under Prop 65, businesses are required to notify Californian customers about significant amounts of these chemicals in the products they purchase. The list includes a wide range of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals used in things like pesticides, household cleaners, food, drugs, dyes, solvents, construction materials, furniture, etc. Businesses are required to provide a “clear and reasonable warning” before exposing anyone to a listed chemical. To read more about Proposition 65, read this.
Makes sense, right?
Until it doesn’t. Acrylamide, a naturally-occurring byproduct of the cooking and browning process of foods (AKA: Maillard Reaction), is present in just about every food that develops a brown, tan, or brown-ish color when cooked or otherwise heated. That includes coffee—It changes from green-yellow to brown when roasted. Acrylamide is on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.
Recently, a Los Angeles judge ruled that California law should require coffee companies to label whole bean coffee and coffee beverages with a cancer warning label due to acrylamide content. A not-for-profit group had sued coffee companies and triggered the hearing. In reply, the coffee industry claimed that the chemical was indeed present in coffee, but at harmless levels and therefore should be exempt from the labeling law. To read more about the hearing, read this.
On one hand, this all sounds good and proper. Until you learn that the amount of acrylamide in coffee (which occurs naturally during the roasting process) is less than the amount in a lot of common foods and that those common foods have not been court-ruled to require the Prop 65 cancer label. We’re talking foods like French fries, cookies, a ton of other baked goods, and more. The French fry comparison is especially interesting, so check out the infographic below for more on that.
Long story short, even the American Cancer Institute has released a report stating that the acrylamide levels found in coffee are so low that they do not in any way cause cancer with normal consumption, but those low levels are actually undetectable by lab test equipment. Yep, there is so little acrylamide in coffee that it doesn’t even show up in lab testing. People are just assuming it’s there because of the browning process. And yet, a judge in California has ruled that coffee has to be labeled as cancer-causing.