It has been widely (including here on Sprudge) reported that a judge in California has ruled that all coffee sold in the state needs to come with a cancer warning. This is due to coffee containing trace amounts of acrylamide, a carcinogen created during the Maillard Reaction in the roasting process. Many people have spoken out against this ruling, including the American Institute for Cancer Research, which essentially says that the defendants (coffee and coffee accessories (coffee’s lawyers)) didn’t prove that coffee wasn’t dangerous. Well, a new study tested nine popular coffee brands and found each and every one to contain undetectable levels of acrylamide.
The research was performed by Denver-based Clean Label Project, a nonprofit organization “focused on health and transparency in labeling” per their press release, who purchased nine brands of off-the-shelf retail coffee to be brewed and tested by Ellipse Analytics, a third-party analytical chemistry lab. Brands in the test included Starbucks, Peet’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Caribou, and Folgers, amongst others. When analyzed, each of the nine samples were found to have undetectable levels of acrylamide.
Now this doesn’t mean that there was none of the carcinogen present in the samples. For acrylamide to be detected in the tests, it would have to be present in levels at or above 40 parts per billion. It was not.
For perspective, Clean Label Project compares the average levels of acrylamide in a cup of coffee to that of a serving of French fries. Whereas a cup of coffee contains 1.77 micrograms per serving, French fries—which come with no such cancer warning—have a whopping 75.65 micrograms per serving, some 40+ times as much of the carcinogen as in coffee.
All the samples tested were of a roast profile much more developed than that of your average specialty coffee roaster. And given that acrylamide is caused by the Maillard Reaction, it stands to reason that lighter roasted coffee would have even fewer ppb than the already undetectable levels of the carcinogen found in the study.
Though the original court battle is now over, appeals can still be made on the ruling. And given that the ruling was based upon coffee not being shown to not be deadly, this research by Clean Label Project may be the sort of empirical data needed to overturn the original outcome.