Coca-Cola (KO) has never shied away from trying new variations of its tried-and-true beverage (think New Coke and Cherry Coke). The company also is known for adding flavorful twists -- like lime and lemon -- to its drinks. But last week, Coke revealed that a more disturbing addition had made its way into its drinks: fungicide.
The warning pertained to some orange juices from Coke and its archrival PepsiCo (PEP), which have been found to contain trace amounts of the fungicide carbendazim, a chemical not approved for use here in the U.S. Coke sells orange juices under the Simply and Minute Maid brands, while Pepsi peddles the classic juice brands Tropicana and Dole.
Somebody Slipped Something Into My Drink
In this case, you can blame Brazil. That country's farmers make frequent use of the fungicide, and it supplies some orange juice to American companies. Although both Coke and Pepsi both import orange juice from Brazil, the primary source of their OJ is Florida.
The Food and Drug Administration is on the case, vowing it will ban any juice that contains more than trace amounts of carbendazim. Likewise, both Coke and Pepsi have assured their customers that their orange juices are safe for consumers. And, in fact, the levels of carbendazim that were found in their OJ were below the amounts that would raise government safety concerns.
Still, this marks second time in recent months that American consumers have been jarred into awareness that some unwholesome additives might be stealthily sneaking into their supposedly "healthy" juices.
Last fall, Consumer Reports said that it found high levels of arsenic (exceeding the FDA's rules for the amount that can be in drinking water) in apple and grape juice. Countries like China may be responsible, since some use pesticides that contain the heavy metal. About 60% of apple concentrate used in American apple juice is imported from China.
This also isn't the first time that American consumers have been jarred to discover the less savory qualities of Coke and Pepsi products. When an individual recently sued Pepsi for finding a mouse in his Mountain Dew, Pepsi's rather unappetizing response was that his claim was impossible, because the rodent would have "dissolved" in the drink as time passed between bottling and pouring a cold glass of Dew, transforming it into "a jelly like substance." As French caffeine fanatics might say, mon Dew!
How Safe Do Americans Feel About Their Food?
Last fall, NPR conducted a survey of Americans' food safety concerns. Although the poll showed a slight decline in concern compared to the year before, 57% of respondents said they were concerned about food safety.
Last spring, a poll conducted by Pew, Hart Research, and American Viewpoint showed a majority of likely American voters supported additional funding for the FDA to strengthen food safety measures. Results included 90% in favor of making foreign countries certify that their exports meet U.S. standards, and 86% in favor of the FDA making more inspections of food facilities.
U.S. companies must address issues like these. More and more American consumers are becoming aware of what they're putting into their bodies, and the fact that many additives are stealthy and unhealthy. Increased distrust of certain products could cause a major shift in consumption, and companies that don't get the chemicals out could become outdated and out of luck in no time.
Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax does not own shares of Coke or Pepsi. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola.