Ah, coffee. For many of us, that morning cup of joe is as essential to survival as oxygen. A full 64 percent of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee per day… and for many people, it’s far more than that.
So it’s no surprise California residents aren’t loving the news that their coffee might start coming with a warning label. A pending lawsuit would force big businesses like Starbucks, 7-Eleven, and BP to put cancer warnings on coffee products. Uhhh, what?
The big question: Is this legit? Should we all be worried that coffee is giving us cancer? We took a look at the research to find out what’s going on here, and the short answer is no.
First things first: Cancer warning labels are pretty common in California. A law called Proposition 65 requires stores to provide a “clear and reasonable warning” to customers if their products contain cancer-causing ingredients. Hence this lawsuit, which argues coffee shops aren’t currently following the rules.
And in one sense, the lawsuit is right. A chemical called acrylamide is found in small amounts in starchy foods such as potato chips, bread, french fries, and—you guessed it—coffee. Acrylamide forms when foods are cooked at high temperatures, and since it comes out naturally during the coffee roasting process, it’s impossible to avoid completely.
But is acrylamide dangerous? Studies on rodents have linked it to an increased risk for certain cancers in animals, and because of that, the National Toxicology Program labeled it “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
However, humans absorb and metabolize acrylamide differently than animals, and since the levels found in humans are much smaller (like, 10,000 times smaller), it’s hard to tell how dangerous the chemical actually is. Because of that, the FDA says it’s not worth losing sleep over: “Removing any one or two foods from your diet would not have a significant effect on overall exposure to acrylamide.”
What does this mean for us? Right now, not much. There’s just not enough evidence that the tiny amount of acrylamide found in coffee is a cancer risk. It’s great this law wants to educate people, but it shouldn’t cause a panic (or a coffee boycott). Take this as a chance to be better informed but don’t worry too much about whether that latte is posing a threat to your health.