Methylene chloride is not an ingredient in the sweetener Acesulfame K

12 December 2023
What was claimed

The sweetener Acesulfame K contains the carcinogen methylene chloride.

Our verdict

Methylene chloride is a potential impurity in Acesulfame K—not an ingredient of it. In tests by the FDA, no methylene chloride was found in samples of Acesulfame K.

A Facebook post from 2021, which is still being shared, includes a screenshot claiming that the sweetener Acesulfame K “contains the carcinogen methylene chloride”. 

The post, which has been shared 33,000 times, implies that this explains health problems the author experienced while drinking a flavoured mineral water called Volvic Touch of Fruit.

We can’t say what caused the health problems outlined in the post, but we can say that methylene chloride is a potential impurity in Acesulfame K, rather than an ingredient. 

Information about food and health which lacks vital context can spread widely on social media and may harm people if they use it to make decisions.

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What are these chemicals?

Acesulfame K (also known as acesulfame potassium) is an approved artificial sweetener, recorded on packaging with the number E950.

Methylene chloride (also known as dichloromethane) is an industrial solvent, which is suspected to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in humans (based on evidence from animals), and is used in the initial manufacturing of Acesulfame K.

What is in the sweetener?

This does not mean that Acesulfame K actually contains methylene chloride, as suggested in an article that provided the text for a Google search result shown in the screenshot in this post.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a report in 2003 (which its sweeteners page still links to) that it did not find any methylene chloride in samples of Acesulfame K, and does not expect that it will be present—although it assumes a low level as a “worst case scenario”. It also says methylene chloride “is a potential impurity in [Acesulfame K] resulting from its use as a solvent in the initial manufacturing step of the sweetener.”

Acesulfame K is listed as an approved sweetener in the UK. According to the Food Standards Agency, this means it “has been tested and proved to be safe for its intended use; there is a justifiable technological need to use it; and its use does not mislead the consumer”.

The NHS says: “All sweeteners in Great Britain undergo a rigorous safety assessment before they can be used in food and drink. All approved sweeteners are considered a safe and acceptable alternative to using sugar.”

Although sweeteners are sometimes said to be linked to various health problems, the NHS says “the evidence base for this is limited”, with the exception of people with phenylketonuria, a rare inherited condition that means they cannot digest a component of aspartame (a different sweetener).

Full Fact approached the authors of the article cited in the screenshot for comment. 

Image courtesy of Urcomunicacion

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