Not long after environmental watchdog group Center for Environmental Health cried foul on the levels of a controversial caramel coloring in Pepsi, soda giant PepsiCo announced its intention to phase out the ingredient nationwide by February 2014.
Pepsi had previously removed the ingredient 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, from Pepsi beverages in California. Last year, the state ruled the ingredient a carcinogen and required companies that use it either to change their products' recipes or clearly label them as containing 4-MEI.
Coca-Cola, which also once used the ingredient, has already changed its formula nationwide.
The Huffington Post spoke with the CEH's communications director, Charles Margulis, who welcomed the move but was less happy about Pepsi's timeline for implementing the change. "We're concerned that it has taken so long [to change the recipe] and that now it's going to take even longer," Margulis said.
Pepsi representative Heather Gleason stressed that the company "moved immediately to meet the new requirements" in California, and that Pepsi without 4-MEI is already on shelves in several states. She did not address questions regarding the reasoning behind the timeline for national changes.
For comparison, Coca-Cola press representative Ben Sheidler said that it had managed to tweak its formulas across North America over a year and a half.
Despite the California ruling and the changes implemented by the two companies, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have both rejected the CEH's assertion that 4-MEI is unsafe.
"We strongly refute any claim that any product we sell anywhere is unsafe. The safety of our products is PepsiCo's top priority, and we abide by the regulatory guidelines everywhere we do business," Pepsi's Gleason said in an email. She also noted that the FDA and other regulatory agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada, consider 4-MEI to be safe.
Gleason also noted that the change was made not out of a safety concern but "in order to maintain a harmonized supply chain" following the California ruling.
Coca-Cola's Sheidler expressed a similar sentiment. “The caramel coloring in our products is safe," he said. "Trace amounts of 4-MEI, a byproduct of the manufacturing process, can be found in the caramel coloring used in many products, including confectionery, cookies, potato chips, beer, donuts, gravy and some of our beverages. But those levels are extremely low."