A Los Angeles judge just ruled that coffee sold in California must warn customers about the risk of potentially carcinogenic acrylamide in brewed coffee.

Nonprofit group Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued 91 coffee companies including Starbucks for their failure to warn consumers about the risks of acrylamide, which has been shown to increase the risk of cancer in mice and rats.


While the companies argued that the levels of the chemical were too low to be harmful, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled that the companies had not adequately shown that coffee had safe levels of acrylamide. The case isn’t over yet, and the defendants have until April 10 to file objections to Berle’s ruling, but a number of companies have already settled and agreed to pay fines and place warning signs about acrylamide.

So, with all this fuss about acrylamide being carcinogenic – what is acrylamide, exactly?

According to the National Cancer Institute, acrylamide is a chemical used to make the polymer polyacrylamide. Polyacrylamide is used in industrial processes like producing paper and plastics, as well as water treatment.

Acrylamide is also found in foods like potatoes when they’re heated to high temperatures, as well as being found in cigarette smoke. Foods like french fries, potato chips, cereals, and canned black olives can all contain acrylamide. Tobacco smoke exposes people to a much higher level of the chemical than food, however.


Studies have shown that acrylamide can increase the risk of cancer in rodents – it is converted into the carcinogenic compound glycidamide in the body, which can cause damage and mutations to DNA. There has been no consistent evidence, however, linking acrylamide to cancer in humans.

Marco Verch / Flickr

Is the ruling in California an overreaction, then?

Stanford University professor of medicine and health research John Ioannidis told the Verge that the level of acrylamide consumers are exposed to from coffee didn’t warrant so much concern.


“I’m not the least concerned about coffee being a problem for causing cancer,” said Ioannidis.

Ioannidis added that “among the millions of things that surround us… [coffee is] among the most safe in terms of cancer risk.”


There have even been other studies suggesting that coffee can help prevent certain types of cancer. In 2017, a study from researchers at the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh found that people who drank no coffee had a 20% higher risk of developing liver cancer than those who drank one cup per day.

So, should you stop drinking coffee after the ruling in California?

Ioannidis said it was hard to know what effect coffee actually has on our health, positive or negative, and how major that effect might be.

“I wouldn’t be surprised, actually, if there’s just no major benefit like there’s no major harm,” he said.


Try These Coffee Alternatives

If you want to cut coffee out of your diet, there are plenty of options. Here are a few ideas from the Food Monster App.

Creamy Chai Latte

Teas like chai are a great drink in the morning if you’re avoiding coffee. This Creamy Chai Latte uses almond milk and a variety of spices for its flavor!

Iced Dandelion Latte

Craving iced coffee? Try this Iced Dandelion Latte for a refreshing way keep cool. Vanilla extract and cinnamon give this drink a delightfully sweet taste.

Liquid Gold Turmeric Latte

Not only is this Liquid Gold Turmeric Latte delicious, it has a beautiful golden color that you’ll want to show to everyone. Turmeric is great for fighting inflammation, so drink up!

Looking for more nutritious cooking info? Download Food Monster App! With over 10,000 recipes, you’ll have your hands full of delicious, plant-based recipes. It’s available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. Full of allergy-friendly recipes, subscribers gain access to new recipes every day.

Lead Image Source: Basheer Tome / Flickr