Prop 65 warning at Starbucks: What’s in my coffee?

As a dedicated, chemical-conscious mom, I’m willing to go pretty far. I tossed all my plastic tupperware years ago, and send my kids to school with 2 lbs of breakable glass food containers. I’ve switched all my personal care products to fragrance-free, paraben-free, and sodium lauryl sulfate free. I use natural dishwashing detergent even though it doesn’t clean my dishes, and I even spent a few grand to buy my kids organic cotton mattresses, after learning that ordinary mattresses are required by law to be doused with flame resistant chemicals.

So, yes I”m willing to go pretty far. But when I took my beloved morning cup of coffee to the condiment station at Starbucks on Friday morning, I was not happy to see a giant Prop 65 warning that my coffee contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer. (Proposition 65 requires the State of California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.)

According to the warning, and the Prop 65 website, coffee contains acrylamide (a chemical known to cause cancer). According to a lawsuit filed by the Committee for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), a single 12 oz. cup of coffee “contains anywhere from four to 100 times the No Significant Risk Level for acrylamide established by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.”

Apparently, coffee has always contained this chemical.  The Prop 65 warning itself says that acrylamide is not a chemical added to coffee or any products, but rather created during the roasting of beans. This apparently is the case for coffee we make at home too.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Acrylamide fact sheet states:

In 2002, Swedish researchers discovered that acrylamide forms during the baking, frying, or roasting of certain kinds of foods, particularly starchy foods. Acrylamide is not added to foods. It is a contaminant that forms during the baking, frying or roasting of certain plant-based foods. Boiling and steaming foods does not create acrylamide. French fries, potato chips, other fried and baked snack foods, roasted asparagus, canned sweet potatoes and pumpkin, canned black olives, roasted nuts, coffee, roasted grain-based coffee substitutes, prune juice, breakfast cereals, crackers, cookies, bread crusts, and toast all contain varying levels of acrylamide.

2. Is acrylamide toxic?

A number of scientific studies indicate that acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals, and available information indicates that significant exposure to acrylamide poses a cancer risk in humans…Acrylamide was added to California’s Proposition 65 list as a carcinogen in 1990 and as a reproductive toxicant in February 2011.

We are then assured that despite the known connection to cancer, the FDA has not advised us to avoid products with acrylamide. So, bottoms up!

This all leaves me very confused. I can’t help but wonder if Prop 65 Warnings gone to far. I have a huge sticker on the side of my minivan that tells me my car contains toxic chemicals, yet I pile my three kids into it every morning. I also try to avoid big box retailers with Prop 65 Warnings, but I did recently  buy my three year old a back pack at Ross.

I suppose I have always known that coffee is not good for me, although I cling to those occasional studies that people who drink coffee have lower risk of heart attacks and stroke. Ultimately, and if you’re a coffee lover you can relate, it’s such a simple daily pleasure .

Did I toss my coffee in the trash? Frankly, I didn’t deliberate  a few moments before my first sip.  I can’t imagine stopping anytime soon, but I don’t know if I will be able to enjoy it as much and I’m definitely going to do more research. What about you?

Meanwhile, the U.S. National Toxicology Program offers the following tips for reducing acrylamide exposure:
Fry foods at 338 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Cook potato strips, such as French fries, to a golden yellow rather than a golden
brown color.
Toast bread to the lightest color acceptable.
Soak raw potato slices in water for 15 to 30 minutes before frying or roasting.
Drain and blot dry before cooking.
Do not store raw potatoes in the refrigerator.

Written by Cecily Ruttenberg, a regular contributor to Love Life with EO.

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  • http://twitter.com/bluemoonnl Lisa D King, LMT,RYT

    Starbucks has been on my boycott list for I would say at least 11 years.  About that long ago we had a petition asking them to stop using GMO products.  They never responded!  It does not surprise me at all that they have carcinogenic substances too!

  • Sarah Richards

    You should note that this carcinogen is not unique to Starbucks, but rather is found in ALL coffee. Go ahead and boycott Starbucks, but keep in mind that every purveyor of coffee is offering the same carcinogenic substance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-Borelli/631316893 Elizabeth Borelli

    At least they’re honest – the rest of the roasters have so far kept us in the dark.  Thanks for the great article Cecily!!  (I’m not stopping either – I have to draw the line somewhere:-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.hardaway Jennifer Hardaway

    Thank you for your post, Cecily! (and thank you Sarah, for your response). Everyone has a choice with what they do and where they go. I was in Starbucks the other day and saw the sign about this. It actually angered me. I am for being safe and conscious about my world. I feel like much of the thought out there is based on scare tactics or instills fear in people and they look at this information or information of this kind, as a life or death issue. “Coffee Bad.” It feels regulated in a way that includes this thought. The sign DID make me aware of what I was doing, it did not close down Starbucks, it’s just information. I can handle just information and make my choice to drink coffee at Starbucks (or anywhere for that matter). 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514574136 Sarah Goodpasture

    Jeez. Looks like nothing is safe.  The whole world causes cancer, so lets all just kill ourselves now! ;)

  • Sheena Sokolowski

    So interesting! I was wondering why my receipts from Disnelyand said some of my products have cancer causing substances…I still haven’t drank from my Alice tea cup :( lol I didn’t even know about this proposition in California, I’m glad the info is at least out there so people can make an informed decision

  • Marissa Pincus

    I think it is a good thing that people are informed.  It is up to them to make decisions based on the information.  I do think it is wrong for people to have knowledge of this type of information and not share it, such as the actions of the FDA. 

    Cancer sounds like something you won’t deal with directly until someone you love or you are diagnosed, then you wish you had known this type of information.  I think CA is doing the right thing with Prop 65 and wish that the entire country would adopt the idea that knowledge is power no matter how scary it is.  I am tired of money being more important than people in this country. 

    I have stopped drinking coffee and soft drinks.  My mom is undergoing cancer treatment for gastrointestinal cancer, it definitely puts things in perspective.

  • http://twitter.com/rbuen04 rbuencamino

    i can hear my nephew saying, “STOP!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001642969621 Rachel Marie

    Thank you for this!

  • Mommy0f3

    Wait…..so you’re a “chemical conscience mom” AND you trust the FDA? …….interesting……
    Maybe you shouldn’t, considering its an association that tries its hardest to keep us sick so that
    we have to buy their drugs and so they stay rich and in control. Just a thought. Look up Dr. Mercola.

  • Loikei

    I too saw this at a starbucks. I now buy my coffee from a friend who sells organogold.  It contains organic ganoderma.  You can really taste the difference in this coffee and starbucks. Type in the web browser www.tescafebunna.organogold.com.  The coffee is pricey, but I signed up as a distributor and get it at a good price.

  • http://www.wickedcoffees.com/ Java

    Burned coffee is the prime suspect. And according to my tastebuds and many customers of mine, Starbucks always burns the coffee. But here’s the kicker: you don’t need to burn coffee to have a dark roast.  It’s trickier to produce, but the result is worth the effort and expense. Here’s a post on another coffee site for discussion. http://wp.me/p1vObl-1j

  • Bob

     you are an idiot

  • Java

    Not drinking unhealthy drinks is definitely a step forward and we need information from objective sources to get it. Certainly the investors aren’t going to supply it. And cancer IS scary to be sure.
    But not all the information about coffee is bad. A recent article in Life Extension Magazine sites 129 sources and studies done on coffee consumption. You’d think that that volume of info would get to the truth. Well, they have determined by looking at all these studies (many showed reduced risk of cancers, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, stroke, liver disease) from coffee consumption. The reason is all the antioxidants in coffee. If you’d like to take a look it is at http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2012/jan2012_Discovering-Coffees-Unique-Health-Benefits_01.htm

  • Sdim66

    Bob works for the FDA

  • Cclebouef

    Just ran across your page while searching for info on prop 65. I live in Louisiana and while shopping online for sleeping bags for my kids on Academy’s website, I noticed the warning of Prop 65 on the product page. Well of course I don’t want my boys sleeping in sleeping bags that may cause cancer or reproductive issues so I didn’t buy them. This is something I’ve never heard of in LA, even though I’m pretty sure most things I come in contact with on a daily basis will give me some form of cancer or another. So as a concerned parent, after reading this blog, should I even worry about that warning?! Is it an overreaction?

  • Chemically concious

    I’m with you on that.  I use filtered water for everything.  Besides, lime will destroy an otherwise healthy coffee maker.

  • Comfort_Giver

    Just do damage control.  Your keys and car will probably kill you long before the food does, anyway.  Brass keys tend to have up to 2% lead content and gas contains benzene, a potent carcinogen.

  • chemically conscious

    Not really.  Monsanto actually has a former employee working for the FDA, now.  Explain that one, Bob.

  • http://twitter.com/CrypticCross The Stik

    Coffee causes cancer … the ”   ” you say ! Coffee isn’t as bad as Alcohol or your big as car terrorizing the streets … it’s all the lumps of sugar dumps and whipped cream fatso dice you put in your cup that’ll clog your filteration system …  drink FRESH roasted coffee with just a bit of milk … eat natural sugar and drive your car into the gas pumps not to the gas pumps

  • Dgaf

    after reading this i’m going to drink twice as much coffee so i can shit even more all over this post

  • Learnscience101

    All coffee, even pricey or organic coffees, have acrylamide since this is formed as part of the roasting process… brewed  coffee has about 8 parts per billion of this substance which means you have to drink thousands of cups every day to get a health effect.  So save your money and enjoy your cup-a-jo!

  • Val

    Hi, I’m a little late on this post, but like you I try to make conscious decisions about the products I put on my body and bring into my home. Everything in my shower is “organic”, but I’ve been having some allergic reactions to some of my body care products. Turns out phenoxyethanol is in MANY organic and natural products-it’s a newer preservative in the cosmetic industry and somehow these companies are allowed to put it into their products that we assume are safe for us and our families. Studies show that phenoxyethanol can cause contact dermatitis, nausea, vomiting, and slowly shut down the central nervous system over time. I encourage you to check the labels of everything in your home, even the natural things still have crazy ingredients. I’m to the point where I’m making all of my own hair/body products because I don’t trust much else.

    Oh and as far as the coffee, I used to work at Starbucks, not only should you be worried about the chemicals already present your daily cup, but the chemicals used in that place to clean steamwands, counters, brewers, etc are all VERY harsh. But that goes with any restaurant or fastfood place.
    Cheers!

  • Beccalou2

    I wonder if organic coffee still has this compound in it. I guess it might since its roasted too, but at least organic coffee offers so many anti-oxidants that fight cancer, and no GMOs which have been linked to causing cancerous breast tumors and liver damage in rats. I’m pretty sure Starbucks doesn’t use organic coffee, so if there are GMOs in their drinks then that would probably be worse. By the way, people who aren’t convinced that GMOs are dangerous should see the new independent Monsanto-free study recently came out in August of 2012. Sadly some people would rather hold onto the crappy food they eat and drink even if it is a danger to them because changing your diet is like changing your whole lifestyle.

  • dpryan0

    My grandfather was born in 1906 and lived 100 years passing away in 2006. If only he had avoided his daily cup of coffee in the morning and gave up pizza and hot dogs,  he still be here.  I expect with all we know about the bad bad chemicals, and live off of organically grown food,  we’ll all  live to 150.

  • Diane-wills

    Don’t give up your coffee habit!  There is overwhelming evidence that coffee prevents Parkinson’s disease which is devasating.  People who drink 3 cups or more a day have a 10-times lower risk than people who don’t drink coffee.  At least cancer can be cured but there is no cure for Parkinson’s.  It eventually renders anyone with it completely helpless and dependent on others.

    I sure wish I drank coffee, but I never started the habit, and then recently I developed a heart condition that would probably be aggravated by coffee, otherwise I’d probably be trying to pick up the coffee habit.

  • Isabellashow

    The purpose of that law and the big WARNING signs at coffee shops is just to KEEP US DELUDED THAT THE GOVERNMENT IS LOOKING OUT FOR US.  They aren’t.  Coffee actually PREVENTS cancer and they know it.  Just my opinion but its supported by a lot of alternative news websites.

  • Stefanie Englert

     I agree, the FDA is not an agency that I would trust to tell me what is safe for me and my family to consume.  So sad but true.  If any of you are interested you should read a book by Ty Bolinger called Cancer – Step Outside the Box.  It explains how FDA and Big Pharma  have single handedly shun any natural cures for cancer over at least a decade (or two) so they can continue to keep their pocketbooks nice and fat. 

  • Merryflyby1

    cancer is chronic and often incurable. You’re lucky if you can get rid of it for the rest of your life!

  • Adrian

    2 good resources that have helped my family:
    If you or someone you know is dealing with cancer or other diseases ie. fibromyalgia (sp?)etc.
    for cancer: burzynskiclinic.com
    and : bealydecker.com
    both these people Dr. Stanislaus Burzynski and Bea Lydecker have a cure for cancer. Bea also has discovered other plants and herbs which impact other diseases. My mom had lung cancer and Bea’s products killed the cancer. My mom lived to 87. Burzynski has healed 100 s of people in stage 4 cancer.
    Hope it helps !

  • ohwell

    Cancer is almost inevitable in humans. The reason we age and cells die is our natural defense to cancer. All we can do is make the best informed decisions we can and consume everything in moderation.

  • Rozemarijn Van Der Steen

    Thank you so much for this blog, I had the exact same reaction. I would prefer to drink non-acidic coffee (the grain-based varieties appear to be better, and I don’t necessarily need the caffeine) with hormone-free milk, but Starbucks offers neither of these options. I noticed MacDonalds is required to put the same sign up for their french fries, because apparently it is the roasting/baking/frying/browning process that causes cancer. Surprisingly grocery stores are not required to put up signs for their products, and I have not seen any labels on chips display the warning either. That leaves me very confused and unhappy: of course I happen to love all the products that cause cancer – the browner and crunchier, the tastier for me! I am going to cut down my consumption of chips and will bake and fry less of my foods, but I will not skip my coffee (unless Starbucks will come up with alternatives, but I don’t think they will anytime soon. Of course they offer tea, but it’s no alternative for me).

    Btw thanks for the warning on the plastic containers. What surprises me though is that nobody has done anything about the biggest cancer-causing agent of them all: leaf blowers.

  • Trebor

    All comments are interesting and interrelated: micro/nano toxins, EPA, FDA, death, suicide. It rings of “Jones Town”. Now, the White House ( I don’t specifically mean Obama) is pushing “Free Trade” across the Atlantic and Pacific so that Big Brother can do the same to the rest of the Globe.

  • magicalfruit

    If you would love a good healthy coffee, Javita is the way to go! It’s a Kosher product, if you don’t know anything about that look it up…it can change your lives! Yes all coffee has micro amounts of this stuff and would take thousands of cups a day to matter, so if you are looking to keep drinking coffee anyway but are looking for the right one, Javita is that one! This coffee is Kosher, grown in the US under the fair market (all workers are paid at least minimum wage or higher), and it is glutten free! Organic is as simple to the makers as changing out the type of manure they are using and that is classified as organic now! They can still add crap to their products, but change the poop??? Go Figure! Kosher has nothing to do with government and is the safest most natural forms of anything else out there. This product is monitored every month for Kosher status and retested once a year! At least if we are still drinking our coffee, we can drink one that can change your life for the better! This coffee can reduce blood pressure, reduce symptoms and sometimes relieve the symptoms of many Auto-Immune Diseases, help you loose weight, relives constipation that even regular coffee can’t, and only has about half of the caffeine of a normal cup of coffee!!!! This is the next big thing and many of the people drinking this coffee are getting off meds for stuff like anxiety, depression, adhd, add, and so much more…even helps with Diabetes! Try it out for yourselves and see! There is a 30 day money back guarentee on the products and no comitment to keep buying once you make your initial purchase! This is a huge new company that I am proud to be a party of while it’s still early on! http://www.myjavita.com/magicalfruit

  • healthier coffee

    Try our delicious coffee which is actually healthy for you , no joke . Does not lower your bodies PH and isn’t acidic nor will give the jitters and the caffeine crash, but instead gives you a steady energy throughout the entire day and a good nights sleep .

    Plus its much cheaper than any starbucks our blacks run at $1.00 per cup and Latte is around $1.20

    Order and have it directly shipped to your door

    http://www.xialiu.organogold.com

  • Sarah Loeb

    Cecily Ruttenberg, you’re an asshat. Please don’t have any more children.

  • Tsktsk

    This is what happens when government interferes with free markets and voluntarism…

    Proposition 65 is a tool that certain businesses can use to attack their competitors. It is not about looking after the consumer’s safety.

  • truth

    some one gave there 8 year old kid starbucks coffe an a week later he died

  • jibberjabbers

    America has the highest cancer rate for a reason. “a little acrylamide here, a little McDonald there” It all adds up. It’s not just coffee, but potato chips, french fries, burgers, Pepsi, etc etc. They all contain traces of Cancer causing chemicals. It builds up over time. Cancer doesn’t happen overnight.

  • Steve Voelker

    That’s because Starbucks over-roasts their beans. I can’t understand why they come out with all these wonderful different varieties because when you taste them they all have the same “burnt” character. I’m with you- when I want a really good, different coffee it’s better to go with a small Mom ‘n Pop local roaster who cares about their product and pay a little more. The main value of Starbucks was in raising awareness of better coffee. The problem for them is they now need to step up their game…

    As for acrylamide, well, maybe over-roasted beans contain a higher concentration of the stuff?

  • Steve Voelker

    I blame entropy! :-)