Rating: Avoid

Emulsifier, clouding agent: soft drinks.

BVO keeps flavor oils in suspension, giving a cloudy appearance to citrus-flavored soft drinks. Though some manufacturers have stopped using BVO, as of November 2023, the USDA Branded Foods Database lists hundreds of products from various brands containing BVO or other brominated oils. Consumers should check the ingredient label to determine if a product contains brominated oils.

Safety questions have been hanging over BVO since the late 1960s, when the FDA removed BVO from its “Generally Recognized as Safe” list. In so doing, the FDA permitted its use only on an “interim” basis pending additional study—one of only four such additives currently listed in federal regulations. Health concerns at the time included that consuming BVO leaves residues in body fat and the fat in the brain, liver, and other organs. Animal studies found that BVO is transferred from mother to the nursing infant and also can cause microscopic changes to heart cells, fatty changes in the liverimpaired growth, and behavioral development. Those studies suggested that BVO might be harmful to people who drink large amounts of soft drinks that contain BVO. Indeed, doctors have identified bromine toxicity in two people who drank extremely large amounts (more than 2 liters per day) of such sodas.

More recently, a 2022 FDA study found that when rats were fed BVO at levels similar to what some people consume, both males and females showed significant increases in the amount of bromide in their blood and increased levels of brominated triglycerides in heart, lung and fat tissue. Changes in levels of some thyroid hormones and impacts on the thyroid gland were also observed, which is concerning because the thyroid gland and its hormones play a number of very important roles in the body, such as regulating metabolism and brain development.

In October 2023, a bill in California (AB 418) was signed into law prohibiting the use of BVO, among other additives, in foods sold in California, and food companies have until 2027 to comply.xvii On November 3, 2023, the FDA published a proposed rule to ban the use of BVO as a food ingredient in products sold across the US.