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Decaf Coffee Still Contains This Harmful Chemical, Experts Warn

An alarming 40% of popular decaf brands that were tested contained trace amounts. We have the list.

If you take your coffee decaffeinated each day or even just as the occasional after-dinner companion to dessert, you'll want to know this: A report is revealing that many of the best-selling decaf coffee products on the market contain the active ingredient in paint stripper, which comes with a host of potential dangers to your health. We're sharing the brands that tested positive, along with how you can research your favorite.

The Clean Label Project, a non-profit consumer advocacy group performing safety research on food and consumer products, recently conducted an investigation of over 20 of the best-selling decaffeinated products on the market. They say of those, nearly 40% contained "at least trace levels of methylene chloride."

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Methylene chloride is the main ingredient in paint stripper, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as "a colorless liquid that can harm the eyes, skin, liver, and heart. Exposure can cause drowsiness, dizziness, numbness and tingling limbs, and nausea. It may cause cancer. Severe exposure can cause loss of consciousness and death." Clean Label Project also suggests methylene chloride has been associated with reproductive harm.

Methylene chloride was also recently added to the State of California's Proposition 65 List, which requires businesses to determine whether they should provide a warning about exposure to certain chemicals.

But, wait: Why on earth is the active ingredient in paint stripper in your decaf coffee? The Clean Label Project explains that some coffee processing companies use methylene chloride as a heated solvent to strip the desired amount of caffeine from coffee beans. (Other brands use an alternative non-chemical process under the USDA National Organic Program.)

Of the decaf coffee brands the Clean Label Project tested, they report the following contained some amount of methylene chloride:

AMAZONFRESH Decaffeinated Colombia

CAFÉ BUSTELO Decaffeinated Café Molido

GEVALIA KAFFE Decaffeinated House Blend

GREAT VALUE Decaffeinated Classic Roast

GREEN MOUNTAIN COFFEE ROASTERS Decaffeinated Breakfast Blend

KIRKLAND SIGNATURE Decaffeinated Dark Roast

KROGER Decaffeinated Classic

MAXWELL HOUSE Decaffeinated The Original Roast

PEET'S COFFEE Decaffeinated House Blend

SEATTLE'S BEST Decaffeinated Portside Blend

Jackie Bowen, executive director of the Clean Label Project, commented on the team's findings to Eat This, Not That!: "What's most concerning is that vulnerable populations are frequent consumers of decaffeinated coffee. Whether pregnant women, the elderly, or people with heart disease or gastrointestinal issues, these populations are already trying to make choices to do better by their health. They are absolutely not expecting to ingest trace amounts of the active ingredient in paint stripper."

If you're a decaffeinated coffee drinker, the Clean Label Project suggests you should consider speaking to your doctor, calling your favorite brand to inquire about their decaffeination process, and looking for claims on product packaging such as solvent-free, chemical-free, Swiss-water, or certified organic. The Clean Label Project says these brands use decaffeination approaches that don't employ harsh chemicals. (You can also check your decaf here.)

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more about Krissy
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