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Why Some Health Experts Are Calling For a Ban on Decaf Coffee

Why Some Health Experts Are Calling For a Ban on Decaf Coffee

Not only will it not give you a boost of energy, but decaffeinated coffee may not be as healthy a choice as it was once thought to be. Health experts and some advocacy groups are asking the FDA to ban a chemical that is added to coffee in the decaffeination process because it has been linked to severe reactions and cancer.

Methylene chloride has been used for decades in the decaf coffee industry. This colorless liquid has also been used in industrial manufacturing processes including pharmaceuticals, paint removers and paint stripping, metal cleaning and degreasing. A known carcinogen, methylene chloride can have adverse effects on the liver, eyes, skin and heart, and can cause dizziness, numbness and tingling in the limbs, nausea, and possibly cancer in the most severe cases.

This chemical additive is recognized as harmful by the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the World Health Organization. Its sale as a paint stripper was banned by the EPA in 2019 for its high toxicity levels and in 2023, the EPA proposed a total ban of the sale of methylene chloride for other consumer, industrial and commercial uses. However, it’s still being used in food, which is regulated by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

When creating decaffeinated coffee, there are a few ways to remove the caffeine from coffee beans. One is a natural decaffeination process that uses liquid cardon dioxide at high pressure to draw out or dissolve the caffeine. Another popular method is the Swiss Water Process which removes caffeine by soaking the beans in warm water baths. Last, the most common, and controversial, method is the direct contact process that involves the use of solvents and other liquids that are eventually evaporated by the beans during the steaming, washing and roasting processes. The toxicity of the chemical residue left after this process varies, however critics claim that any level of residue is harmful if ingested and have called for a total ban of the use methylene chloride in food.

As a consumer, you can avoid potential exposure by reading the label on your favorite decaf coffee brand. The Clean Label Project, which tests consumer products for hidden environmental and industrial contaminant, offers a quick and easy tool called Check Your Decaf. Just choose your favorite coffee brand to see what processes are used for decaffeination.

The FDA suggests looking for packaging with “solvent free,” Swiss Water processed or certified organic labels. It’s always important to do your research and find out all you can about the food you eat and the products you use. It’s amazing what a light google search can uncover!