Urethane in Alcohol a Health Risk

By Foulke, Judith E. | Nutrition Health Review, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview

Urethane in Alcohol a Health Risk


Foulke, Judith E., Nutrition Health Review


The Food and Drug Administration is carefully evaluating studies to determine if there could be a long-term health risk to consumers from urethane in alcoholic beverages.

Urethane is a chemical substance that forms naturally during the fermentation process. It causes cancer in animals, but it is not known if it poses any significant health risk to humans. Based on data currently available, FDA does not believe that urethane levels in alcoholic beverages currently on the market are an immediate short-term health risk.

Until all scientific research is completed and evaluated, and regulations established, FDA is working with industry to reduce any potential risk to humans from urethane and is participating in tests to find out if the small amounts of urethane present in alcoholic beverages might be harmful.

Follow-up studies are not complete, and for now, according to the Cancer Assessment Committee of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, there is not yet enough information to assess the risk.

Urethane by Nature

Urethane formation is not a new phenomenon produced by high-tech processing. The chemical forms naturally in wine during yeast fermentation of fruit juice. Fermentation also produces urea from the yeast metabolism of arginine, an amino acid in grapes. Recent studies show that when urea reacts with ethyl alcohol after fermentation, ethyl carbamate, another name for urethane, results. …

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