You might soon get a cancer warning on your coffee

Your Starbucks cup might include more than just your misspelled name in the future if a nonprofit group wins a court case going on in Los Angeles.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics claims Starbucks and about 90 other companies, including retailers and grocery stores, failed to follow a California law requiring warning signs about hazardous chemicals.


At the center of the dispute is acrylamide, a carcinogen found in cooked foods such as French fries that is also a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process. The coffee industry has acknowledged the presence of the chemical but asserts it is at harmless levels and is outweighed by benefits from drinking coffee.

Although the case has been percolating in the courts since 2010, it has gotten little attention.

A verdict in favor of the little-known Council for Education and Research on Toxics could send a jolt through the industry with astronomical penalties possible and it could wake up a lot of consumers, though it’s unclear what effect it would have on coffee-drinking habits.

The lawyer heading the lawsuit says that the goal is not so much the warning label, but getting the coffee industry to remove the carcinogen from its products.

“I’m addicted — like two-thirds of the population,” attorney Raphael Metzger said. “I would like the industry to get acrylamide out of the coffee so my addiction doesn’t force me to ingest it.”

Two companies have already settled in the lawsuit, according to Food & Wine – with the doughnut chain Yum Yum and the gas station chain BP agreeing to pay a fine and post warnings moving forward.