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California court dismisses lawsuit linking coffee to cancer

Illustration for article titled California court dismisses lawsuit linking coffee to cancer
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt (Getty Images)

Great news, everybody! The California Superior Court has officially closed the book on a 10-year-old legal battle over whether or not coffee causes cancer. Is this ruling reliable? I don’t care! Even if coffee has been mutating each cell in my body with every warm, glorious sip, I’m never going to give it up. (And I’m a cancer survivor, too, so I am 100% aware of how having cancer sucks. This is how intoxicating a love of coffee can be.)

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Council for Education & Research on Toxics (CERT), a secretive, now shuttered nonprofit organization that made millions of dollars by suing major corporations over a chemical compound called acrylamide, which, like all chemicals, sounds incredibly scary. Scientific research has linked acrylamide to cancer risks, based on trials where lab animals were given doses far greater than what humans are normally exposed to. And we’re exposed to it a lot: acrylamide is created by the Maillard reaction, which occurs when organic material comes in direct contact with high heat. Whenever you brown meat, deep-fry cheese, bake cookies, or, really, do any sort of cooking whatsoever, the Maillard reaction is in play. So if you’re eating food that’s been exposed to temperatures over 350 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re enjoying the delectable taste of acrylamide.

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Though it’s unlikely that you’ll ever consume as much acrylamide as those lab animals were given, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) still found the results to be significant enough that it now classifies acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen,” while the US National Toxicology Program has classified it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” And that fact, coupled with the fact that acrylamide is in so much of what we consume, gave CERT the grounds to sue companies like Proctor & Gamble, Walmart, Unilever, Target, McDonald’s, and many, many, many more, netting the organization millions of dollars in settlement fees. Where did all this money end up going? Nobody knows.

Yahoo Finance reports that this particular lawsuit was filed against about 90 companies (including Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Costco), alleging that under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (commonly known as Prop 65), all coffee products should require warning labels. After being shuttled about the court system for nearly a decade, the case was officially closed last week, when a judge at last granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgement, the judge agreeing that a recently enacted regulation from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) officially exempted all food companies from having to label their products for acrylamide.

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“Exposures to chemicals in coffee, listed on or before March 15, 2019 as known to the state to cause cancer, that are created by and inherent in the processes of roasting coffee beans or brewing coffee do not pose a significant risk of cancer,” stated OEHHA in the new amendment to Prop 65. We’ll raise a cortado to that.

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

I think the only thing Proposition 65 has ever done is confirm in the minds of every American who doesn’t live in California that the state is full-on nuts.