Spices can be a serious source of lead intake in children
According to a research, contaminated spices were determined to be the second largest cause of lead poisoning in children in 2021 in Nebraska’s most populous county.

Currently, there are no limits on heavy metals in food in the US, which has led consumer groups (e.g. Consumer Reports) to express dissatisfaction with the FDA.

The study in Douglas County found high lead levels in children of Afghan refugee families. According to the head of the county health department's lead poisoning prevention program, these high lead levels can be traced to food, specifically lead-contaminated spices. Since there is no limit, virtually anyone's lead intake can be too high.

However, Afghan families presumably bought their spices from ethnic grocery stores, and immigrants from different ethnic backgrounds often prefer spicier food than the typical American diet.

In its 2021 survey, Consumer Reports found arsenic, lead and cadmium in a range of branded condiments, with levels of health concern found in a third of 126 products tested. (In its most recent survey, at the end of 2022, Consumer Reports detected levels of heavy metals in samples of chocolate that were deemed harmful.)

In the current study, chemistry students measured the lead content of spices and found the highest levels in thyme and basil, but all the spices tested contained the heavy metal.

In addition to food, the primary source of lead intake for children in Douglas County, Nebraska, is paint (powder or chips). Douglas County is a sprawling agglomeration with the largest city being Omaha that was once famous for its metallurgy, which locals associate with the higher-than-normal lead levels in the soil.

The heavy metal content of spices is not unknown, and limits have been set in the EU for lead in dried spices (Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006). However, in the light of the results of the study presented here and the news about the heavy metal content of other foods (e.g., baby foods, dark chocolate), further studies and risk assessments should be carried out to clarify the potential health risks from dietary intake of heavy metals. Based on the results of these studies, a review of the regulations and limits on the heavy metal content of foods may be recommended.


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