Methylene chloride is a dangerous solvent used in food production, including to make decaf coffee. In May 2024, the EPA said it will prohibit most industrial applications of the chemical, but the FDA still allows it to be used in foods.

The EPA will prohibit most applications of methylene chloride

Methylene chloride is a solvent used for a variety of industrial, commercial, and food production purposes. The chemical is used as a paint stripper and in the production of refrigerants, pharmaceutical drugs, and furniture. It is also used to decaffeinate coffee and manufacture spice extracts.

But methylene chloride is a dangerous chemical associated with dozens of unintentional deaths. And although the chemical is only found in small traces in decaf coffee, long-term exposure is correlated with cancer risk.

On May 8, 2024, the EPA finalized a rule which will ban methylene chloride from consumer use and the majority of commercial and industrial applications under the agency’s jurisdiction. The rule includes some exemptions, including for electric vehicle batteries, the production of certain types of environmentally sustainable chemicals, laboratory uses, and military uses. For permitted uses, the EPA will require workplace safety protections. The finalized rule is effective as of July 8, 2024, but prohibited applications of the chemical will be phased out over two years.

However, because food uses of the chemical fall under the purview of the FDA, not the EPA, this finalized rule does not affect current uses of the solvent in food.

CSPI has called for the FDA to ban methylene chloride in foods

On March 11, 2024, CSPI wrote to the FDA to express support for two petitions filed by the Environmental Defense Fund and other groups, which requested that FDA revoke its approvals for the use of methylene chloride and three other solvents: benzene, ethylene dichloride, and trichloroethylene (TCE).

All four of these solvents are linked to cancer, which the FDA itself has even acknowledged. When studies reveal that an additive causes cancer in humans or animals, it is no longer safe. The Delaney Clause—a provision of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act—prohibits the FDA from approving a cancer-causing substance for use in food.  

With the EPA’s recent decision to ban methylene chloride for most uses, it is clearer than ever that the FDA should remove methylene chloride and other risky solvents from our food supply. The cancer risks resulting from the use of these solvents in food may be small, but they are completely unnecessary, as there are safer alternatives that can be used. Coffee can simply be decaffeinated with water, for example.

How you can help

CSPI will continue to push for the FDA to protect workers and consumers from exposure to dangerous chemicals such as methylene chloride. To get involved, you can sign the petition below to call for the FDA to update food additive regulations to foster a safer and more transparent food system.

Sign Our Petition for Safer Food

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As a nonprofit organization that takes no donations from industry or government, CSPI relies on the support of donors to continue our work in securing a safe, nutritious, and transparent food system. Every donation—no matter how small—helps CSPI continue improving food access, removing harmful additives, strengthening food safety, conducting and reviewing research, and reforming food labeling. 

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