FDA Considers a Big Change to Decaf Coffee

Advocacy groups petition to ban a chemical often used in decaffeination
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2024 6:00 AM CDT
FDA Considers a Big Change to Decaf Coffee
   (Getty / Watson_images)

A notable change may be coming to decaf coffee, with health advocacy groups pushing to ban a chemical commonly used in the decaffeination process. The FDA is currently reviewing the request regarding methylene chloride. A look at the details:

  • The process: Many decaf coffees use what's known as the European Method of Decaffeination, in which boiled coffee beans are soaked in chemicals such as methylene chloride to remove the caffeine, reports Food & Wine. The beans are then rinsed to remove the chemical residue, and current FDA guidelines say the minuscule amounts that remain are safe, per the Week.

  • The request: Groups including the Environmental Defense Fund petitioned the FDA to ban the carcinogen, which is used "in many different industries including paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, paint remover manufacturing and metal cleaning and degreasing," per the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (The EPA banned its sale as a paint stripper in 2019, notes CNN.) The advocacy groups say federal law requires the ban because the chemical has been shown to cause cancer in rats, per STAT News. There is no word yet on when the FDA might rule.
  • Popular: Nearly every major coffee company in the US uses methylene chloride, including Starbucks and Dunkin', per STAT. The National Coffee Association insists that the trace amounts left behind on coffee beans are safe and that a ban would "defy science," per CNN. The American Chemical Society agrees. The advocacy groups, however, say the FDA guidelines are outdated.
  • Alternatives: USA Today notes that other methods are used to remove caffeine from beans—including the "Swiss water method" and one that makes use of carbon dioxide, and the piece explains those processes. CNN notes that consumers interested in these can "look for product packaging with labels such as solvent-free, Swiss Water processed or certified organic."
(More decaffeinated coffee stories.)

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