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Get the facts about lead in food

Jan. 4, 2024—Baby food, rice, fruit and vegetables have all been singled out for heavy metal contamination over the years. You may also have heard about lead in cinnamon applesauce pouches. Get the facts from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts about the risk of lead and other heavy metals in foods.

How does lead get into food?

Lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury get into our food in a variety of ways. When the air, soil or water is contaminated with these metals, the plants that grow there absorb them. Livestock that drink water or eat plants containing heavy metals can also become a source of lead.

Additionally, the manufacturing process sometimes introduces lead. For example, baby food made in metal tanks may contain lead. Packing also can contain lead that seeps into the food.

What foods or drinks are most likely to contain heavy metals?

Because it absorbs more heavy metals than other plants, brown rice is an ingredient more likely to contain lead. Consider milk rather than rice milk for your kids, and check snack labels for brown rice syrup. It’s often a sweetener in foods made for toddlers.

Spices, including cinnamon, can also sometimes contain lead.

What about organic foods?

Organic foods may be lower in pesticides, but they won't reduce your risk of lead exposure. Heavy metals like lead turn up in the soil plants grow in, so organic foods often have the same amount of lead as nonorganic foods.

How do I know if my child has been exposed to lead, and what do I do about it?

Most kids who have been exposed to lead show no obvious symptoms. However, short-term exposure could cause headaches, stomachaches or vomiting. Longer-term exposure to lead can cause muscle aches, constipation, tremors and weight loss.

If your child has eaten a recalled product, call your healthcare provider for a blood test or reach out to your local poison control center. Learn more about protecting your family from lead.


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