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Have you heard that your cup of coffee may come with a cancer warning in California?

For many people, the idea of starting the morning without their regular latte or double espresso is unthinkable. So what’s going on in California?

The issue in California stems from the state’s Proposition 65 law, which requires restaurants, stores, schools and other public places in the state to warn people, through a sign in the store or label on the product itself, if they are exposed to any substances on the Prop 65 list at levels that may present a cancer risk. This Prop 65 list includes chemical substances that have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) or other agencies as possible or potential carcinogens.

In the case of coffee, the chemical acrylamide, which is created during the coffee bean roasting process, is the substance that is drawing attention.

What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide is chemical compound that occurs in many foods when they are cooked and thus exposed to high heat, such as baked breads and baked and fried potatoes, or meat cooked out on the grill. Acrylamide also occurs naturally in a variety of other foods including black olives, asparagus, dried fruit, prune juice, roasted almonds, cereals, crackers, cocoa powder and chocolate.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), acrylamide has probably always been present in cooked foods but was first detected in certain foods in 2002.

Does acrylamide cause cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, rodent studies have found that acrylamide exposure may increase the risk for some types of cancer. However, according to the American Cancer Society, doses of acrylamide given in animal studies have been as much as 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the levels people might be exposed to in foods.

While IARC has classified acrylamide as a probable carcinogen based on animal studies, a majority of studies done on humans have found “no statistically significant association between dietary acrylamide intake and various cancers,” according to studies reported in the Journal of Nutrition and Cancer.

What’s next?

Coffee industry advocates and scientists are pushing back on warning labels, citing additional research from IARC stating that many studies showed that “coffee drinking had no carcinogenic effects.” In addition, others are pressing the state of California to strengthen the clarity of its labeling program overall to decrease consumer confusion.

Recent academic studies also suggest that the beverage provides numerous health benefits. In 2017, The BMJ published a review of more than 200 studies that linked coffee drinking with a variety of positive health outcomes, from reduced risk of diabetes to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the meantime, the popularity of coffee still seems to be going strong – a recent tally shows that Americans are consuming 400 million cups a day.

For more information about acrylamide in food, visit FDA’s website.

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