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J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Jan 30;61(4):780-9. doi: 10.1021/jf304855u. Epub 2013 Jan 15.

Carcinogenic 4(5)-methylimidazole found in beverages, sauces, and caramel colors: chemical properties, analysis, and biological activities.

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Department of Environmental Toxicology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, United States.


Since the National Toxicology Program (NTP) identified 4(5)-methylimidazole [4(5)-MI] as a cancer causing chemical in 2007 and the State of California added it to the Proposition 65 list of compounds as a carcinogen on January 7, 2011, many researchers and regulatory agencies have become focused on the presence of 4(5)-MI in foods and beverages. 4(5)-MI has been known to form in the Maillard reaction system consisting of a sugar and ammonia-a typical caramel-color preparation method for beverages. 4(5)-MI is identified in various beverages and sauces, which are colored with caramel, as well as in caramel color itself. Analysis of 4(5)-MI is extremely difficult due to its high water solubility, but the analytical method for 4(5)-MI has progressed from conventional paper chromatography, gas chromatography, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to the most advanced high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Various studies indicate that caramel colors and carbonated beverages contain 4(5)-MI in levels ranging from 0 to around 1000 ppm and from 0 to about 500 ppm, respectively. Reports of the toxicity of 4(5)-MI at relatively high levels suggest that it may cause some adverse effects on human consumers.

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