U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) researchers recently presented dietary exposure assessments for 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) at the 248th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting held August 10-14, 2014, in San Francisco. Contributing to FDA’s review of available toxicological data for 4-MEI found in Class III and IV Caramel colors produced using ammonium compounds, the scientists analyzed 4-MEI levels of caramel-containing foods and beverages using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, then relied on intake data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to estimate dietary exposure levels for the following U.S. population groups: (i) “the U.S. population aged 2 years or more”; (ii) “infants (< 1 year old)”; (iii) “children aged 1 year”; (iv) “children aged 2-5 years”; (v) “children aged 6-12 years”; and (vi) “teenage boys aged 12-18 years.”

According to the presentation poster, the caramel-containing food categories contributing more than 1 percent “to the cumulative dietary exposure to 4-MEI for the US population ages 2 years or more” included carbonated beverages, breads and rolls, dairy-based desserts and drinks, iced tea and iced coffee, beer and malt beverages, beverages from mix, and sports drinks. For each population group, the researchers created three different exposure scenarios from two-day and 10-14 day dietary surveys that estimated exposure using the lowest, highest and averaged 4-MEI analytical values.

“While industry has undertaken efforts to lower 4-MEI levels in caramelcolored carbonated beverages, these products still represent a significant portion of the cumulative 4-MEI exposure,” states the presentation poster. “Additional products will be analyzed for 4-MEI in order to enhance the exposure estimate… For certain product categories, trends in the levels of 4-MEI will be monitored.”