US may ban chemical used to make decaf coffee, but there are alternatives: What to know

Your morning (or evening) cup of coffee may see some slight changes if a proposed rule from the Food and Drug Administration is adopted.

Regulators are considering a rule that would ban the use of methylene chloride, a solvent used to decaffeinate coffee beans.

The liquid is used in multiple industries, including paint removal and manufacturing, and the CDC says exposure can cause drowsiness, dizziness, numbness and tingling limbs, and nausea.

However, coffee consumers are exposed to an exceedingly low amount of the chemical.

Currently, the FDA allows for concentrations of methylene chloride below 10 parts per million on the surface of decaffeinated beans.

While some outlets have described the rule as a potential ban of decaffeinated coffee, only the solvent faces a ban from regulators.

Here's what you need to know about the potential FDA decaf coffee rule:

What's in the proposed rule change

The rule under consideration would ban the use of four solvents from being used to wash or peel fruits and vegetables:

  • Benzene

  • Ethylene dichloride

  • Methylene chloride

  • Trichloroethylene

The American Chemical Society says that the decaffeination process leaves methylene chloride, "well below the 10-ppm concentration allowed" due to the easily soluble nature of the chemical

The rule change has been advocated for by the Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, the Center for Environmental Health and the Environmental Working Group.

The petition was filed in January and public comment for it closed in March.

People holding cups of coffee
People holding cups of coffee

How is coffee decaffeinated with methylene chloride

The decaffeination process that involves methylene chloride is called the European method, according to Food and Wine magazine.

The method involves boiling unroasted beans and then submerging them in a solution that includes methylene chloride or similar solvents to extract the caffeine.

The beans are rinsed of the solution, dried, then roasted.

Are there other ways to decaffeinate coffee

There are two ways to decaffeinate coffee without using methylene chloride.

In the CO2 method, the beans are placed in water that is then pumped with carbon dioxide. The resulting sparkling water is drained and the now-decaf beans are roasted.

In the Swiss water method, green coffee beans are soaked in hot water to release soluble compounds and caffeine. The water is then filtered through charcoal to remove the caffeine and create green coffee extract. The extract is then used to draw the caffeine from the next batch of beans which are then roasted.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is the US banning decaf? No, but a chemical to make it might go away