By Alessandra Malito, MarketWatch
Do you know what’s in your baby’s food?
Lead was found in 20% of more than 2,000 baby food samples, compared to 14% in another 10,000 food samples, according to an Environmental Defense Fund analysis of Food and Drug Administration data released Thursday. Lead was most commonly found in fruit juices (89% of grape juice samples and 55% in apple juice samples), sweet potatoes (86% of samples) and teething biscuits (47%). At least one sample in 52 of the 57 types of food evaluated had detectable lead and eight types of baby food had lead in 40% of their samples as well.
There’s no safe level of lead, according to the EDF, and yet about 500,000 children have elevated blood lead levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children face the highest risks from blood lead levels, including behavioral problems and lower IQs as they grow.
Adults are also affected by lead consumption — it’s been linked to high blood pressure and kidney damage, according to the World Health Organization . Aside from consuming lead through foods, people can inhale lead particles from lead-contaminated dust and water, as well as cosmetics, medicines and wall paints, the WHO wrote.
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There are foods that can help prevent lead poisoning, however, according to the Massachusetts Health and Human Services department , such as those high in calcium and iron, which make teeth and bones strong — two areas of the body where lead is stored — which blocks lead absorption, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Cleveland. Parents should also have their children tested for lead, tell them to wash their hands often — especially before eating and sleeping, clean their toys and feed them healthy snacks such as yogurt, cheese slices and whole grain crackers, WHO advises.
Lead isn’t the only harmful substance hiding in the foods we eat, researchers have found. The EDF analyzed Federal Drug Administration data between 2003 and 2013 from the federal agency’s “Total Diet Study,” which tracks metals, pesticides and nutrients in food. Pesticides are chemicals used to thwart insects and are often considered toxic.
Effects on a person depend on how toxic the products are, or how much exposure people have to them. The “Dirty Dozen,” a list of produce with the most pesticides and created by Washington, D.C.-based environmental nonprofit research organization Environmental Working Group, included strawberries, peaches, pears, celery, tomatoes and potatoes.
Gerber food, which is owned by Nestlé /zigman2/quotes/208115528/delayed CH:NESN +1.12% , said in a statement that it sets internal standards. “We test our finished products, and results for over 2,000 samples of Gerber baby foods and juices show our products consistently fall well within the available guidance levels and meet our own strict standards ...We work continuously to lower our levels and look forward to collaborating with FDA in their work to further the safety of foods and drinks for children.”
The FDA is continuing to work with industry to further limit the amount of lead in foods to the greatest extent feasible, especially in foods frequently consumed by children, a spokesman for the government agency said in a statement. “The FDA has established lead levels that should not be exceeded for a variety of foods,” it said. “The agency is in the process of reevaluating the analytical methods it uses for determining when it should take action with respect to measured levels of lead in particular foods, including those consumed by infants and toddlers.”
(The Grocery Manufacturers Association and several major manufacturers of baby food did not respond to requests for comment. The Specialty Food Association declined to comment on the report. The FDA data on which the study was based didn’t provide specific company data.)