Heads-up New Jersey: officials with the Food and Drug Administration have issued a alert about a widely used food product that they have found to be no longer safe.

And chances are, you have consumed it in the past and might still have it in your kitchen right now.

We're talking about brominated vegetable oil (BVO).

The FDA says the ingredient, which has been used for decades in food, "is no longer considered safe after the results of studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found the potential for adverse health effects in humans."

What is BVO?

BVO is a vegetable oil that is modified with bromine. Bromine is defined by the Royal Society of Chemistry as,

Used in many areas such as agricultural chemicals, dyestuffs, insecticides, pharmaceuticals and chemical intermediates. Some uses are being phased out for environmental reasons, but new uses continue to be found.

Specifically in regards to what humans consume, the FDA allowed it to be used to in small amounts "to keep the citrus flavoring from separating and floating to the top" of some beverages.

Simply speaking, citrus sodas are flavored with oils. Since oil and water don't mix, BVO was used to keep everything together.

The FDA recommends eliminating products containing brominated vegetable oil (BVO) - Photo: TSM Illustration
Citrus sodas - Photo: TSM Illustration

In 1970, the FDA determined BVO was no longer "generally recognized as safe" and over the years, many beverage makers reformulated their products to replace BVO with an alternative ingredient.

Today, only a small number of beverages in America contain BVO.

For NJ residents, how bad is BVO?

Food Network quoted Katherine Zeratsky, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic, as saying,

Health concerns about BVO stem from one of its ingredients, bromine. Bromine can irritate the skin, nose, mouth and stomach. It’s also been linked to neurologic symptoms in people who drink large quantities of citrus soda — more than 2 liters a day.

Cola Soda Bottles with Blue Tops Lined up in a Group on Store Shelves
Melissa Blair

Which drinks still contain BVO?

According to USA Today,

BVO is most commonly found in smaller grocery store brands and regional beverages, including some Food Lion-brand sodas, some Great Value-brand sodas, and Sun Drop citrus soda.

The Environmental Working Group maintains a list of nearly 100 products still being sold today that contain BVO; that list is available via TheMessenger.

If you wish to check the items that are in your pantry or refrigerator for BVO, you'll find "brominated vegetable oil" towards the end of a product's ingredient list.

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