Ethyl Carbamate

Ethyl carbamate, also commonly known as urethane (Fig. 7), is produced at very low levels in many fermented foods and beverages, including bread, beer, soy sauce, yogurt, and red and white wine. It is developed in wine by the presence of urea with alcohol, by certain malolactic bacteria, or even by heating nonfermented grape juice with added ethanol (21).

Numerous wine surveys showed a range of ethyl carbamate levels from undetected to more than 100 //g/L. This compound is a water-soluble carcinogen as shown in numerous animal studies and is therefore considered a human dietary carcinogen. Thus, its content in foods and beverages should be as low as possible. In 1988, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established that American table wines should not have ethyl carbamate levels higher than 15 //g/L. The FDA also recommended that wine importers have some form of testing program so that foreign wines do not exceed this limit.

Carcinogenesis studies with mice have shown that the intake of ethanol in wine protects against the metabolite of ethyl carbamate, that is, the active or ultimate carcinogen, from forming through a competitive interaction mechanism. Also, lowered food and caloric intake with concomitant lowered body weights in mice seems to further reduce ethyl carbamate tumor development (22).

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