Proposed OEHHA Regulation: No Prop 65 Cancer Warning for Coffee

Posted on Behalf of 

Posted on behalf of Sarah Brown.

On June 15th the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) proposed a regulation that would exempt coffee from carrying cancer warnings under Proposition 65 (OEHHA, 2018). Earlier in the year, a California state court judge ruled that coffee companies across the state were required to include cancer warning labels on all coffee products containing acrylamide because of its carcinogenic properties (Boysen, 2018). Acrylamide has been listed as a carcinogen under Proposition 65 since 1990. The court’s decision raised concern about other chemicals in coffee that were also listed under Proposition 65, such as furfuryl alcohol and other chemicals formed during roasting and brewing. 

In the proposed regulation, OEHHA stated that “drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk” despite the presence of acrylamide and other chemicals in coffee currently listed as known carcinogens under Proposition 65 (California Environmental Protection Agency, 2018). The initiation of the proposed regulation was influenced by a review of over 1,000 studies conducted by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which concluded that there was “inadequate evidence” that coffee drinking was associated with cancer, and which further revealed that coffee consumption was associated with a reduced risk in certain types of cancer (IARC, 2018).

Proposition 65 requires businesses to provide clear warning labels on products that contain chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive/developmental harm. In many situations, warning requirements for specific chemicals are not required if consumer exposure levels do not exceed safe levels (e.g., No Significant Risk Levels (NSRLs) for carcinogens and Maximum Allowable Dose Levels (MADLs)) for reproductive/developmental toxins. However, if the proposed regulation is adopted, it would mark the first time that OEHHA has waived warning requirements for a specific food. Importantly, the proposed regulation focused on the risk of exposures resulting from chemicals produced by and inherent in the roasting and brewing process. The proposed regulation does not address Prop 65 warnings for intentionally added or contaminating chemicals introduced to coffee. In addition, whether OEHHA will extend this precedent to other food products that also contain chemicals listed under Proposition 65 (and where there is evidence that consumption of those food products does not show an increased cancer risk) remains uncertain.


Cardno ChemRisk scientists have extensive professional experience evaluating the possible hazards posed by chemicals in virtually every consumer product media and category, including evaluating these chemicals in the context of Proposition 65 regulations. Our scientists are experienced at evaluating large and diverse product lines to best prioritize products or chemicals in order to maintan Proposition 65 compliance. We provide advice and assistance regarding screening level testing plans, development of safe harbor levels, screening or refined exposure assessments, and acceptable risk level calculations.