May 20th, 2006

FDA Finds Five Beverages Contain High Benzene Levels

By Jane Zhang
Wall Street Journal

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that five beverages among more than 100 tested by the agency had benzene levels that exceeded the government’s safety level for drinking water.

The FDA ordered the test in November after private-laboratory results showed some soft drinks contained benzene, a cancer-causing chemical that can form naturally under certain conditions.

The five beverages with benzene levels greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking-water standard of five parts per billion were Safeway Select Diet Orange soda, AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage, Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange, Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail and Crush Pineapple. The FDA said all five makers have reformulated or are reformulating their products.

Kraft Foods Inc., maker of Crystal Light, stopped shipping the Classic Orange beverage in February after the FDA notified it of the findings, said a spokeswoman. “We would not allow a product on the market if it posed a safety risk,” she said. The company began distributing its new beverage in March.

A Safeway Inc. spokeswoman said the company reformulated its orange diet drink before the FDA told it of the test findings. A spokesman for Giant Food, a subsidiary of Amsterdam-based Ahold NV, said, “There’s no food-safety issue involved, and in conjunction with FDA, Giant is reformulating the product.” He said that when FDA officials notified the company of the test results last month, they said a recall was unnecessary.

Meridian Beverage Co., the maker of AquaCal, referred inquiries to an outside public-relations firm, which didn’t return calls. Cadbury Schweppes PLC, maker of Crush Pineapple, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The FDA acknowledged that the study is limited but said testing will continue. It used samples collected from November 2005 to April 2006 from retail stores in Maryland, Virginia and Michigan.

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