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Does Coffee Need a Cancer Warning? — Chromatography Investigates

Apr 17 2018 Read 1043 Times

Recent headlines seem to have branded coffee as a potential killer. The cause of the headlines is acrylamide, which is found in coffee beans after roasting. But are the headlines all they seem? Have you heard of Proposition 65? And what is acrylamide? Is coffee really a killer?

Proposition 65 — keeping California safe

Proposition 65 is a state law in California — also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act and came into force in 1986. The idea behind the law is to allow people to make informed decisions about what they are drinking. Specifically, Proposition 65 requires the state to publish a list of the chemicals that are known to cause cancer or have reproductive toxicity.

As part of the law, businesses in California must provide clear and reasonable warning labels before knowingly exposing people to any of the chemicals on the list. The labels only say that a product has something in it that might cause cancer or affect reproduction — not what the substance is or how you might be exposed to it.

To be labelled though, the product only must contain a substance that is thought to be a probable carcinogen — which has a very broad meaning. Not all labelled products contain known carcinogens — including by groups or organizations outside California. So not every product that is labelled as a possible cancer-causing substance has a proven and accepted worldwide status as a carcinogen.

Toast and coffee

The latest headlines about coffee and cancer refer to the presence of acrylamide in roasted coffee beans. Acrylamide in foodstuffs was first reported to the public in 2002. Acrylamide is found in many raw foodstuffs, but only in negligible amounts. But when certain foods are cooked or heated at high temperatures, a reaction between amino acids and sugars found in foods can cause acrylamide to form as a natural by-product.

Lab tests have shown that high doses of acrylamide can cause cancers in animal studies. But the evidence from human studies is inconclusive and no foods are banned in the UK because of acrylamide. It is recommended to reduce your exposure to certain foods — roast potatoes, toast, biscuits and coffee are some of the foods found to contain acrylamide. Chromatography is used to measure acrylamide in roasted coffee beans, a complex medium — the use of two-dimensional chromatography to analyse complex samples if discussed in the article, New Investigator Tools for Finding Unique and Common Components in Multiple Samples with Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Chromatography.

Dangerous coffee?

The headlines have been made because a group in California has taken coffee shops to court saying that they have failed to warn their customers about the risk they take when drinking coffee. The basis of the argument is that since California lists acrylamide as a carcinogen and it is found in coffee, then the public must be warned. Does this make coffee dangerous? You decide.

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