Overseas agencies have recently reported the presence of benzene in some non-alcoholic beverages.
In the past, testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration also confirmed the presence of benzene in some soft drinks. Reformulation of some soft drinks was said to have resolved the issue in some cases, but not all manufacturers have reformulated.
In early 2006 independent testing in the United States found levels of benzene 2-5 times the World Health Organization (WHO) water quality guideline levels of 10 parts per billion (ppb or 0.01 milligrams per litre).
The news created international interest, with the United Kingdom, Germany and South Korea all conducting tests. Following this international interest and findings of low levels of benzene in soft drinks and other beverages, FSANZ investigated a range of Australian non-alcoholic beverages.
FSANZ sampled 68 flavoured beverages in March/April 2006. These were purchased from typical retail outlets and analysed for benzene by a suitably qualified independent laboratory. The survey results are not representative of all flavoured beverages as the sampling was targeted mainly at beverages that were more likely to contain benzene which included; cola and non cola soft drinks, flavoured mineral waters, cordial, fruit juice, fruit drinks, energy drinks and flavoured/sports water.
Of the 68 samples tested, 38 beverage products contained trace levels of benzene. The levels detected ranged from 1 to 40 ppb. More than 90% of all beverages surveyed had levels of benzene below the WHO guidelines for drinking water (10 ppb).
The FSANZ survey results do not raise any public health concerns in relation to benzene levels in flavoured non-alcoholic beverages available in Australia, as the trace amounts found make a very small impact on overall benzene exposure. Nonetheless, FSANZ has liaised with other government departments and the food industry to ensure that levels of benzene in beverages are kept as low as can be achieved, while still ensuring the microbiological safety of these products.
The International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA) has recently approved a Guidance Document to Mitigate the Potential for Benzene Formation in Beverages and this has been made available to all Australia beverage manufacturers. This document can be found at www.australianbeverages.org
The National Health & Medical Research Council Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) provides a reference level for benzene in drinking water in Australia of 1 ppb.
Manufacturers of flavoured beverages where benzene was found at levels of 1 ppb and above have been advised of the results of the FSANZ survey and have been referred to the ICBA's Guidance Document to assist them to minimise the possible unintended formation of benzene.
The Australian Beverages Council has agreed to survey member companies' compliance to the four key recommendations (review, test, reformulate and monitor) outlined in the ICBA Guidance Document on an annual basis, commencing 4th quarter 2006 and provide a summary of the findings to the relevant government regulatory body.