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
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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