acrylamide coffee
Coffee shops in California may have to warn customers that the production of coffee releases the chemical acrylamide. trophygeek/Flickr

The state of California has a law that requires companies to disclose hazardous chemicals in their products to consumers. These warnings are sometimes labels and for products purchased online are included in the item description. Different items require different labels, and coffee might be the next item on the list.

Proposition 65 requires that naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals that can cause serious health problems like cancer or birth defects must be disclosed. There are more than 800 chemicals on the list, all of which can be viewed online. One of them chemicals on that list is acrylamide, a chemical that is released when coffee beans are roasted, CNN reported.

The chemical is also used for the production of paper, dyes and plastic, according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s also used in the treatment process for water and is in some consumer products and some foods.

Coffee is not the only food item that acrylamide can be found in. Food is actually one of the most common means by which people end up exposed to the chemical. The chemical is produced when foods containing asparagine are heated with specific types of sugars. Foods like French fries, crackers, cereals and prune juice all contain the chemical just as coffee does, said the NCI.

The reason coffee might soon carry the warning has to do with a lawsuit that was filed in 2010. The suit claims that the defendants listed in the lawsuit, including Starbucks and 7-Eleven, don’t provide adequate warning to customers that consuming their coffee products could put them at risk for exposure to acrylamide.

The chemical was shown to increase cancer risks in rodents, one study found, but studies on the chemical in humans have found no such risk, said the NCI. Studies of the occupational risk of the chemical have found that it can cause neurological damage, according to the NCI, but not that it increases the risk of cancer.​​