SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - Buying a cup of coffee in California could soon come with a warning label for cancer.
A non-profit organization has an ongoing lawsuit that it hopes will eventually require coffee-related businesses to put labels on their products to warn consumers about the possible dangers of acrylamide.
Acrylamide is a chemical found in coffee and in other cooked foods, such as French fries, that can potentially cause cancer when consumed in large amounts.
According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit, brought on by Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT), dates back to 2010. However, legal proceedings resumed in Los Angeles on Monday.
In the lawsuit, CERT has listed several well-known coffee distributors as defendants, such as Starbucks, which is the lead defendant in the case.
At Coastal Peaks Coffee in San Luis Obispo, owner Micheal Knight has been keeping an eye on the long-running legal battle for years.
He believes the debate over acrylamide is something consumers should worry too much about.
"Coffee is 99 percent water, slightly more in espresso,” said Knight. “The dilution of acrylamide in that beverage is so minimal and the amount that you would have to consume would be so great, I don't think there's an issue as far as health is concerned."
Knight added he's not qualified to state with 100 percent certainly acrylamide is safe, but according to industry reports, there is no emphatic evidence it is harmful in small amounts.
It should be noted acrylamide is found in many common foods consumed each day by millions of Americans, such as french fries, potato chips and toast.
The chemical is also a byproduct of the coffee bean roasting process.
Should CERT emerge from its lawsuit victorious, there will be big question marks as to how the state will proceed with warning labels.
"That would be impossible to put on every cup of coffee,” Knight said. “You would have it stenciled on an acrylic cup or a stainless steel cup. That's not very practical. I don't think that will happen, probably more so on retail packaging like the one pound or half pound bag you might see in grocery stores."
Another possible placement of a warning label could be a sign posted on a wall, such as those already required by Proposition 65, which requires businesses to notify customers about the presence of chemicals in the products they purchase.
Coastal Peaks education director Rachelle Stepro notes the retail store has a posted Proposition 65 warning posted, but it usually never elicits any reaction from customers.
Retailers say the signs are so commonplace they frequently go unnoticed.
"We already have signs up and we rarely get any questions,” said Stepro.
She adds that Coastal Peaks is ready to comply with whatever is settled in the courts.
"I think it would be just something that we would have to do and I wouldn't be that worried about it. Of course we would have to educate our staff on what it means and the risks,“ said Stepro.
She also believes that should warning labels be required, she doesn't think it will ultimately hurt business.
"I don't think so,” Stepro said. “It's something that I feel people are willing to whatever risk it is to keep coffee as part of their daily lives."
The Associated Press reports two defendants in the case, BP West Coast Products and Yum Yum Donuts, Inc. have already settled out of court and have agreed to post warnings.