Meet Phosphoric Acid: The Corrosive Chemical in Cola

Food labeled “natural” raked in more than $40 billion in U.S. retail sales over the past 12 months.

It’s crazy to give that much value to something that has absolutely no definition.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “the Food and Drug Administration has no definition, says a spokeswoman, but rather a long-standing policy that it considers “natural” to mean that “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”

downloadAnd while Coca Cola hasn’t gone so far as to slap a “natural” label on their sodas, women are taking on the giant soda maker for false and misleading claims on their labels.

The alleged class action lawsuit states that certain Coca Cola containers contain the affirmative statement that there are no artificial flavors, no preservatives added” despite the fact that these products contain a ‘chemical preservative’ and ‘artificial flavor’ phosphoric acid.

So what is the stuff?

Phosphoric acid is a colorless, odorless solid or a thick, clear liquid.  It can be used as acidifying agent to give sodas a tangy flavor.  It is also commonly used for rust removal.

It is used in rustproofing metals, fertilizers, detergents, foods, beverages, and water treatment.

You can see where these women might have a point.  Why in the world is this industrial chemical being put into cola in the first place?

After all, it’s used in fertilizers, livestock feed, soaps, polishes, dyes, polishing metals and in many other nonfood products.

It’s added to soft drinks to provide a sharper, tangy taste and to help slow the growth of molds and bacteria in sugary formulas.

In other words, it helps cola companies lengthen the shelf life of their products and enhance their profitability.

The flipside is that its use makes sodas incredibly acid.  So how do companies like Coca Cola account for all of that acidity?  They add huge amounts of sugar to mask it.

So what’s the risk?

Phosphoric acid is on the Hazardous Substance List because it is regulated by OSHA and cited by ACGIH, DOT, NIOSH, IRIS, NFPA and EPA. This chemical is on the Special Health Hazard Substance List because it is corrosive.


So if it’s used to remove rust, what can it do to us?  Phosphoric acid can affect you when breathed in. Phosphoric acid is a corrosive chemical and contact can irritate and burn the eyes.  Breathing phosphoric acid can irritate the nose, throat and lungs causing coughing and wheezing.   (Source:

And while it does occur naturally in some foods like milk, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, and egg yolks, the percentages are low (0.1%-0.5%).

A study published in the “Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine” in 2000 found that athletic teen girls who consume colas have five times the risk of bone fractures as those who don’t consume cola drinks.

According to Livestrong, “ a team from the National Institutes of Health investigated the dietary habits of 465 people with chronic kidney disease and 467 healthy subjects. The results, published in the journal “Epidemiology” in July 2007, found that drinking two or more colas a day, diet or regular, was associated with a twofold risk of developing kidney disease. The clear sodas that contained citric acid didn’t have the same risk.”

Attorneys claim that they have a hall pass because the FDA has never defined the term, “natural.”  As the number of  lawsuits over the use of the term grows, a growing number of food and beverage companies are ditching the term “natural” on the label.

Only 22.1% of food products and 34% of beverage products launched in the U.S. during the first half of 2013 claimed to be “natural,” down from 30.4% and 45.5%, respectively, in 2009 according to Datamonitor.

The beverage industry is going to be quick to defend this ingredient that helps shore up their earnings, but one take away is clear: if you tend to sip soda, do so mindfully. Your body isn’t a rental car.  It’s the only ride you’ve got.

1 Comment
  1. John says

    Thanks for letting me know about this.

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