After son’s allergic reaction, Ashburn mom looks for answers
However, celebration turned to alarm when Jake, who is allergic to soybeans, broke out in hives after five sips.
Jane Layman, Jake's mother, said the symptoms worsened and Jake entered anaphylactic shock.
" We had to rush him to the ER, where they gave him an emergency shot,” Layman said. “It was absolutely terrifying.”
For nearly a week, Jake required Benadryl every six hours to recover.
After researching the drink's ingredients, Layman determined brominated vegetable oil, commonly made from soybeans, caused her son's reaction.
"We went to our doctor, who has been treating Jake for years and he assumed that it was the BVO," Layman said. "He didn't see any reason why it wouldn't be."
Dr. Theodore Kim, a Northern Virginia allergy specialist, said the chances of BVO causing an allergic reaction is low.
"To my knowledge there are no case reports in English-language medical literature about BVO causing an allergic reaction in a soy allergic child," Kim said.
Layman contacted Coca-Cola to find out why they did not label Powerade as a soy product.
"They told me they were looking into it and asked me to fill out a complaint form," Layman said. "I even contacted their CIO on LinkedIn, though he hasn't gotten back to me."
Lauren Thompson, a Coca-Cola spokesperson, said while Coke wishes Jake a speedy recovery, the company did act within the law.
"The safety of our products is our number one priority," Thompson said. "Our products comply with all federal labeling regulations."
In November 2012 15-year-old Sarah Kavanagh of Hattiesburg, Miss., wrote an online petition to remove BVO from Gatorade. More than 200,000 signatures later, PepsiCo announced it would stop using BVO in Gatorade, although Kavanagh's petition was not mentioned in the statement.
Layman followed Kavanagh's lead by writing her own petition on Change.org, asking Coke to label drinks containing BVO as a soybean product. The petition also demands for BVO's removal.
Soybeans are listed under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act as a common food allergen. Foods containing common food allergens must be labeled. However, highly refined oils like BVO are exempt from being labeled as allergens.
Kim said highly refined oils usually do not cause allergic reactions.
"A typical allergic reaction occurs when a person's immune system reacts with the proteins in an allergen," Kim said. "After oil extraction and refinement, proteins are taken out. Generally most soy allergic children can safely eat soybean oil that has been highly refined."
Layman said the exemption brings up other questions.
"What other additives are exempt?" Layman said. "If they can put highly refined oils, made from peanuts and soybeans, in products without labeling, then what else are they putting in?"
BVO is an additive used in 10 percent of American soft and sports drinks, including Mountain Dew and Powerade Strawberry Lemonade.
The additive prevents citrus fruit flavoring from collecting at the top of the bottle by weighing it down with bromine, an element used in flame retardants.
Although banned from the EU and Japan the Food and Drug Administration has permitted BVO in food products since 1977.
Patricia El-Hinnawy, a FDA spokesperson, said the agency considered the additive safe after conducting several animal studies.
"BVO is considered safe by the FDA in fruit flavored beverages based on a large margin of safety," El-Hinnawy said. "It is permitted in fruit flavored beverages at the maximum level of 15 parts-per-million."
With more than 150 signatures, Layman said she hopes for the best.
"It's a little discouraging, because you see all these different petitions about removing BVO,” Layman said. “But maybe something will turn out.”