Check of baby food for heavy metals requires paying attention, but don’t panic

Consumer Reports (CR) is out with a new study of heavy metals in baby food. CR’s latest tests include 14 products, representing a mix of fruits and vegetables; meals and entrees; and snacks, such as bars, puffs, and teething wafers. At least three samples of each product were tested and the 14 products are likely to be high in a combination of arsenic, cadmium and lead based on their ingredients or on previous CR tests.

CR focused on products that had concerning levels in tests five years ago. Seven of the products were the ones tested in 2018; the other seven were similar to products that were previously tested but that are no longer on the market. More about how CR tests baby foods for heavy metals is available here.

To determine how many servings of each product a child could eat per day, CR’s food safety experts consider how much of that type of food kids typically eat, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Then CR assessed the risks posed by the combined exposure to arsenic, cadmium, and lead in that food. This link CR.org shows CR’s recommendations for the product tested. The findings were a spot check of the market and should not be used to draw definitive conclusions about specific brands, according to CR.

The CR findings consider that parents feed their children many foods a day. “Because heavy metals are so pervasive in foods — and because they tend to accumulate in the body — small exposures from multiple foods can add up,” says Eric Boring, PhD, a CR chemist who oversaw our testing. “And feeding your child amounts close to the daily serving limits leaves little room for exposure to heavy metals from other foods.”

Long-term intake of heavy metals may increase the risk of a variety of health and developmental problems in young children, including a lower IQ and behavioral issues, as well as ADHD, autism and other issues.

“Early development is a really sensitive period of time,” says Maya Deyssenroth, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Organ systems are developing and are particularly vulnerable.”

At the same time, Boring says, “While concerning, these results are no reason to panic.” He points out that the risk comes from repeated exposure over long periods of time, not from eating a food just once or even several times. An occasional serving of even one of the foods with the highest levels is generally OK,” he says. “Just remember to mix up what your kids eat.”

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