How Safe is Your Baby Food? Company Reports Show Arsenic, Lead and Other Heavy Metals

C. Michael White wrote . . . . . . . . .

Heavy metals including lead, arsenic and mercury can be found in commercial baby foods at levels well above what the federal government considers safe for children, a new congressional report warns.

Members of Congress asked seven major baby food makers to hand over test results and other internal documents after a 2019 report found that, out of 168 baby food products, 95% contained at least one heavy metal. Foods with rice or root vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, had some of the highest levels, but they weren’t the only ones.

How concerned should parents be and what can they do to reduce their child’s exposure?

As a professor and pharmacist, I have investigated health safety concerns for several years in drugs and dietary supplements, including contamination with heavy metals and the chemical NDMA, a likely carcinogen. Here are answers to four questions parents are asking about the risks in baby food.

How do heavy metals get into baby food?

Heavy metals come from the natural erosion of the Earth’s crust, but humans have dramatically accelerated environmental exposure to heavy metals, as well.

As coal is burned, it releases heavy metals into the air. Lead was commonly found in gasoline, paint, pipes and pottery glazes for decades. A pesticide with both lead and arsenic was widely used on crops and in orchards until it was banned in 1988, and phosphate-containing fertilizers, including organic varieties, still contain small amounts of cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead.

These heavy metals still contaminate soil, and irrigation can expose more soil to heavy metals in water.

When food is grown in contaminated soil and irrigated with water containing heavy metals, the food becomes contaminated. Additional heavy metals can be introduced during manufacturing processes.

The United States has made major strides to reduce the use of fossil fuels, filter pollutants and remove lead from many products such as gasoline and paint. This reduced exposure to lead in the air by 98% from 1980 to 2019. Processes can now also remove a proportion of the heavy metals from drinking water. However, the heavy metals that accumulated in the soil over the decades is an ongoing problem, especially in developing countries.

How much heavy metal is too much?

The World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration have defined tolerable daily intakes of heavy metals. However, it’s important to recognize that for many heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, there is no daily intake that is completely devoid of long-term health risk.

For lead, the FDA considers 3 micrograms per day or more to be cause for concern in children, well below the level for adults (12.5 micrograms per day).

Young children’s bodies are smaller than adults, and lead can’t be stored as readily in the bone, so the same dose of heavy metals causes much greater blood concentrations in young children where it can do more damage. In addition, young brains are more rapidly developing and are therefore at greater risk of neurological damage.

These lead levels are about one-tenth of the dose needed to achieve a blood lead concentration associated with major neurological problems, including the development of behavioral issues like aggression and attention deficit disorder. That doesn’t mean lower doses are safe, though. Recent research shows that lower blood lead levels still impact neurological function, just not as dramatically.

For other heavy metals, the daily intake considered tolerable is based on body weight: mercury is 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight; arsenic is not currently defined but before 2011 it was 2.1 micrograms per kilogram of body weight.

Like with lead, there is a considerable safety margin between the tolerable dose and the dose that poses high risk of causing neurological harm, anemia, liver and kidney damage and an increased risk of cancer. But even smaller amounts still carry risks.

One example of the exposure infants can face is a brand of carrot baby food found to have 23.5 parts of lead per billion, equivalent to 0.67 micrograms of lead per ounce. Since the average 6-month-old eats 4 ounces of vegetables a day, that would be 2.7 micrograms of lead a day – almost the maximum tolerable daily dose.

What can parents do to reduce a child’s exposure?

Since the amount of heavy metals varies so dramatically, food choices can make a difference. Here are a few ways to reduce a young child’s exposure.

1) Minimize the use of rice-based products, including rice cereal, puffed rice and rice-based teething biscuits. Switching from rice-based products to those made with oats, corn, barley or quinoa could reduce the ingestion of arsenic by 84% and total heavy metal content by about 64%, according to the study of 168 baby food products by the group Healthy Babies Bright Futures.

Using frozen banana pieces or a clean washcloth instead of a rice cereal based teething biscuit was found to reduce the total heavy metal exposure by about 91%.

2) Switch from fruit juices to water. Fruit juice is not recommended for small children because it is laden with sugar, but it also is a source of heavy metals. Switching to water could reduce the intake of heavy metals by about 68%, according to the report.

3) Alternate between root vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, and other vegetables. The roots of plants are in closest contact with the soil and have higher concentrations of heavy metals than other vegetables. Switching from carrots or sweet potatoes to other vegetables could decrease the total heavy metal content on that day by about 73%. Root vegetables have vitamins and other nutrients, so you don’t have to abandon them altogether, but use them sparingly.

Making your own baby food may not reduce your child’s exposure to heavy metals. It depends on the heavy metal dosage in each of the ingredients that you are using. Organic may not automatically mean the heavy metal content is lower because soil could have been contaminated for generations before its conversion, and neighboring farm water runoff could contaminate common water sources.

Is anyone doing anything about it?

The congressional report calls for the FDA to better define acceptable limits for heavy metals in baby food. It points out that the heavy metal levels found in some baby foods far exceed the maximum levels allowed in bottled water. It also recommends standards for testing in the industry, and suggests requiring baby food makers to report heavy metals amounts on their product labels so parents can make informed choices.

Baby food manufacturers are also discussing the issue. The Baby Food Council was created in 2019 to bring together major infant and toddler food companies and advocacy and research groups with the goal of reducing heavy metals in baby food products. They created a Baby Food Standard and Certification Program to work collaboratively on testing and certification of raw ingredients. Ultimately, baby food makers will need to consider changing farm sources of raw ingredients, using fewer seasonings and altering processing practices.

The U.S. has made important inroads in reducing heavy metals in air and water since the 1980s, dramatically lowering exposure. With additional focus, it can further reduce heavy metal exposure in baby food, too.

Source: The Conversation

Your Chicken Is No Longer Pink. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe to Eat.

wrote . . . . . . . . .

As we wait out this pandemic, chances are you’re at home, cooking. Perhaps you’ve baked a million loaves of bread and your sourdough starter is overflowing. If Google Trends is any indication of what comes next, after “banana bread” and “pancakes,” people are seeking “chicken recipes.”

Chicken is America’s most popular meat. But undercooked chicken, when contaminated, is also a leading source of food-borne illness. So how do you avoid giving yourself and your isolation-mates food poisoning?

Many people, including Solveig Langsrud, a scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research, assume chicken follows a simple rule-of-thumb: Pink chicken turned white means “done.” It’s similar to how we cook other meats.

“Consumers can see that if you have a hamburger, and it turns from red to brown, it’s approximately around the temperature where the meat becomes safe,” said Dr. Langsrud.

But was this true? Did it line up with temperature recommendations?

As scientific literature offered no clear answer to her questions, Dr. Langsrud and her colleagues have identified common problems with recommendations and practices for cooking chicken safely at home. In a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE, they showed that home cooks often follow intuition and color, disregarding temperature recommendations. Intuition and color sometimes aren’t enough to ensure safety. These can be alleviated with a few expert tips.

To study how cooks at home follow safety recommendations, researchers filmed 75 households in five European countries. From a random but nonrepresentative sample, they also conducted an online survey of nearly 4,000 households in the same countries that say they cook chicken.

Worried that chicken would dry out, most home cooks determined doneness by color and texture inside the meat, they found. Few bothered with thermometers, claiming they took too much time, were too complicated to use, didn’t fit in the chicken or weren’t necessary (although easy-to-use thermometers are inexpensive and widely available).

In additional lab experiments, the scientists injected raw chicken breast fillets with a cocktail of campylobacter and salmonella. These bacteria are common contaminants of chicken, and cause millions of sicknesses, thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths each year in the United States. They cooked the breasts on a commercial grill plate until they reached core temperatures ranging from 122 to 158 Fahrenheit (the World Health Organization’s minimum temperature for safe chicken), and they discovered something surprising.

At 158 degrees, but not lower, bacteria inside the chickens’ cores was reduced to safe levels, and when cut open its flesh appeared dull and fibrous, not glossy like raw chicken. But meat began changing from pink to white far below this threshold, and most color change occurred below 131 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes, the chicken’s core would be safely cooked, but unsafe levels of bacteria still lingered on surfaces that hadn’t touched the grill plate.

Many people think chicken is safe before it is, Dr. Langsrud said. Her advice?

You can check the core for fading pinkness, dulling glossiness and more apparent fibers, all signs of degrading proteins and cooking meat. But those alone won’t bring you safety.

You’re really better off buying a thermometer. Ask a salesperson how it works and where to measure temperature, said Bruno Goussault, a scientist and chef specializing in precise-temperature cooking at the Culinary Research and Education Academy in Paris and Washington, D.C. Dr. Goussault was not involved in the study.

Use it to “follow the temperature,” he said, by measuring often. Temperature still increases in the meat’s core after it is removed from a heat source. Depending on thickness, a chicken breast’s core temperature, for example, may increase 41 degrees Fahrenheit in the 10 minutes after it is removed from heat.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s guidelines for cooking chicken at home suggest a minimum core temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. But using the same recommended temperature for legs and breasts can result in Thanksgiving turkey effect — dry breast and juicy drumsticks — because white meat cooks at lower temperatures than dark.

Americans still should respect these guidelines, says Dr. Goussault, but that doesn’t mean we must settle for dry chicken. He prefers a sous-vide method that involves vacuum sealing and cooking in a water bath at exact temperatures to consistently arrive at beautiful, juicy and pathogen-free chicken. But you don’t need to be a sous-vide master.

Try buying and cooking breasts and legs separately, Dr. Goussault said. Bring the breast’s core to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, he said, and the leg to between 168.8 and 172.4 Fahrenheit.

And remember: Chicken surfaces need love too. Unless the inside of a chicken was contaminated during processing, the outside is where you’ll find most bacteria. Boiling it, or searing it uniformly, will ensure heat kills all surface bacteria.

If you really want to safely gauge temperature for a whole chicken, insert a pop-up thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh before roasting it, Dr. Goussault suggests. By the time the probe pops, the breasts will have long cooked. They will likely be dry and far from his standards of culinary perfection. But you’ll be sure to, as Dr. Goussault says in French, “dormir sur ses deux oreilles,” or, figuratively, “sleep peacefully.”

Source: The New York Times

The 10 Most Dangerous Foods In The World

Vikas Shukla wrote . . . . . . . . .

It’s no secret that hot dogs are one of the biggest choking hazards in the United States and many other countries. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, they are the biggest cause of choking injuries in children. But many other food items out there are far more dangerous than hot dogs. They could make you sick or even kill you if not prepared properly. Here we take a look at the top 10 most dangerous foods in the world. If you are a big foodie, eat them at your own risk.

Some of them are mouth-watering. But they could prove fatal if they are not prepared correctly.

Raw cashews

People who don’t have nut allergies don’t mind eating cashew nuts from the tree. But few people know that the raw cashews contain urushiol, which could be fatal if eaten in large quantities. The cashews you buy at stores are safe because they undergo heat treatment to remove toxins.

Cassava

Cassava is a popular delicacy in South America and Africa. The root vegetable is primarily cultivated in South America. It must be cooked correctly before being eaten. If you chew it raw or cook it incorrectly, cassava releases a harmful enzyme called linamarase that turns a compound in the root into hydrogen cyanide. The sweet variety of cassava is not as deadly as the bitter one, but it still contains 20mg of cyanide per root.

Blood clams

Blood clams are harvested in the Chinese waters, the Atlantic, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. These bivalves carry a number of diseases such as Hepatitis A, dysentery, and typhoid because they live in lower oxygen environments. Blood clams have even been responsible for massive hepatitis outbreaks.

Sannakji

If you are one of the adventurous foodies, you might want to try this Korean delicacy made with raw baby octopus. The octopus is chopped up and seasoned before it’s brought to the table. But their suction cups remain active with some gripping power. Unless you chew carefully and thoroughly, the suction cups could stick to your throat and suffocate you.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is the primary ingredient in the rhubarb pie, but you should avoid leaves of this vegetable at all costs. Both raw and cooked leaves of Rhubarb contain a toxin called oxalic acid, which could cause kidney failure and even kill you. The symptoms include eye pain, trouble breathing, diarrhea, and red urine. An estimated 15-30 grams of oxalic acid is enough to kill an adult.

Elderberries

Elderberries are not cultivated in the United States, but their ripened flesh is used in jam and jelly that you buy from the grocery stores. Homeopathic experts use elderberries to treat various ailments such as the flu, cold, and skin wounds. But raw elderberries, their leaves, seeds, and twigs could be toxic. According to the CDC, they contain a toxin that causes cramps, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and even death.

Cherry seeds

Cherry seeds or pits contain a compound called amygdalin, which converts into the deadly hydrogen cyanide when you ingest them. Fortunately, an adult will do just fine even after consuming 703mg of hydrogen cyanide a day. Unless you are consuming hundreds of cherry seeds, you don’t have to worry much.

Casu Marzu

Casu marzu is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese. It contains live insect larvae for extra fermentation. The larvae partially decompose the sheep milk cheese. Stay as far away from it as you can because the larvae can survive being ingested and cause trouble in your intestine. Thankfully, casu marzu is banned in the United States and European Union for hygienic reasons.

Ackee

Ackee is a Jamaican fruit. You should consider eating it only when it’s fully ripe and properly prepared. If you eat it when it’s still yellow (raw), you could suffer from hypoglycemia, vomiting, and even death. If you want to eat the yellow part, make sure it’s cooked properly. The fruit contains a toxin called Hypoglycin A, which makes it one of the most dangerous foods in the world.

Fugu (Pufferfish)

Fugu aka pufferfish is the most dangerous food in the world. Pufferfish is banned in the United States, and for good reasons. It’s 1,200 times more toxic than cyanide. It contains a concentrated amount of Tetrodotoxin, which is a neurotoxin. The delicacy could prove lethal if you don’t prepare it correctly – you have to carefully and completely remove the organs containing the toxin. It kills several dozen people in Japan every year. Even a tiny dose of the toxin stops the nerve conduction between the victim’s body and the brain by blocking sodium channels.

Source: ValueWalk

23 Spice Products Sold in Hong Kong Have Cancer-causing Substances

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has found 23 spice products sold in the city contained substances that could cause cancer, with the amount in two goods exceeding local regulatory limits.

The Consumer Council revealed on Tuesday that more than half of the 44 dried spices tested were found to have either aflatoxins (AFs), ochratoxin A (OTA) or both.

AFs and OTA are mycotoxins produced by fungi, and carcinogenic, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

It urged manufacturers to improve their production to minimise the chances of mycotoxin contamination during the process and to preserve the finished products in good condition.

“It’s hard for consumers to tell which spices are problematic, so a quality check is very important,” the council’s chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

Among the 15 spices found to have AFs, the amount in two nutmeg products, often used to make western pastries such as pumpkin pies – went beyond the upper limit set by the Centre for Food Safety’s regulations of 15 micrograms per kilogram (mcg/kg).

The IARC said AFs were linked to liver cancer and may affect unborn babies.

Deep-fried vegetable chips could contain twice the amount of carcinogen in potato chips, Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns

Ground Nutmeg from McCormick, marked as from the United States, contained 17.7mcg/kg of AFs.

Of the 17.7 micrograms of AFs, 12.4 micrograms were B1-type AFs – the most toxic kind of such mycotoxins – which exceeded the European Union’s maximum limit of 5mcg/kg.

Another nutmeg product from Yuan Heng Spice Co was found to have 17.5 micrograms of AFs, of which 14.6 micrograms was the B1-type substance.

The council has asked the local food authorities to follow up.

The study found these and two other spice products exceeded the stricter cap of 10mcg/kg set by the European Union.

An agency representing McCormick argued the council’s findings were abnormal, saying another test report by an independent laboratory suggested the product had less than five micrograms of B1-type AFs per 100kg. It said a small sample might produce unreliable results and that safety was its first priority.

Yuan Heng Spice Co’s agency representative said its investigation suggested there had been problems when stocking the products and the company had recalled and destroyed the batch of goods in question.

Nora Tam Fung-yee, from the council’s research and testing committee, insisted the test was conducted in accordance with international standards but admitted results from different batches might vary.

But Wong said no matter whether the manufacturers agreed with the results or not, they were responsible for finding out the cause of the problem and to check whether the products were safe to sell.

Meanwhile, the council’s tests also found 18 out of 44 samples contained OTA, which could cause cancer. They included capsicum spp. spices and turmeric which are essential for making curry, as well as nutmeg products.

The council noted there was currently no regulatory oversight on the maximum concentration of OTA in spice products.

Wong said the European Union had such regulations and another international body also had a recommended upper limit, so Hong Kong should keep up with the times and the test results warranted attention.

“But we want to bring a little bit of comfort to consumers. In Hong Kong food culture, the application of spices is not in high quantity. Unlike other Asian countries which consume curry more and use it more frequently. So relatively, the seriousness is not that high,” she said.

The council urged consumers to inspect the product packaging with care and check whether the spice was mouldy or had an unusual appearance.

It added once opened, the spice should be tightly closed and stored in a cool dry place.

Source: SCMP

Frankfurters Cut the Wrong Way Can be Choking Hazard for Kids

Amy Haneline wrote . . . . . . . . .

Summer is already filled with enough hazards to stress out parents — we’re looking at you, open water and fireworks.

But what about your kids’ plates?

Summer is peak hotdog season. Considering 150 million franks are consumed on the Fourth of July in the United States alone, there is a strong chance they will be on the menu many a weekend.

So, now is a good time for a reminder that hotdogs can be serious choking hazards, said Dr. Tanya Altmann, author of Baby & Toddler Basics.

The size, shape and texture of hotdogs make them especially dangerous for young children, so the pediatrician is here to explain everything parents should know before handing a kid a dog.

“Hotdogs are long and round and when (young children) bite off a piece of it, it really looks kind of like a thick quarter and that is the perfect size to get lodged into a child’s throat,” Altmann said.

Any food that is “large, round and solid” can be a potential choking hazard, Altmann said.

That’s why hotdogs often rank at the top of lists of foods to avoid giving young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that hotdogs should be kept away from children younger than four years old.

Other potentially dangerous foods include whole grapes, hard or sticky candy, chunks of meat or cheese and popcorn.

Choking incidents among kids

In a 2013 study of choking incidents among young children, the AAP reported “choking is a leading cause of injury among children, and can sometimes be fatal.”

Researchers investigated non-fatal food-choking-related emergencydepartment visits among children ages zero to 14 years from 2001 to 2009. On average, 12,400 children (or 34 per day) were treated for a choking incident.

Hard candy caused most choking episodes (15 per cent), followed by other candy (13 per cent), meat other than hotdogs (12 per cent) and bones (12 per cent). Hotdogs accounted for 2.6 per cent of the cases.

At what age can a child eat a hotdog?

Parents can start introducing solid foods (except raw honey, which can harbour bacteria that causes foodborne illness in infants) to babies around six months of age, Altmann said. Parents should consider both the nutritional value and safety of a food when choosing their baby’s diet.

“If you wanted to mash up a hotdog into puréed or bite-sized pieces, theoretically you could feed it to an older infant or toddler, but I would argue it may not be nutritionally the best choice,” she said.

Cut hotdogs lengthwise first

All foods for babies and young children should be cut into one-centimetre or smaller pieces, the AAP recommends. However, cylindrical-shaped foods require extra care.

Thus, hotdogs should be cut lengthwise into strips first and then cut again into smaller pieces. The same goes for other common choking hazards such as grapes, cherries and cherry tomatoes.

For older kids who want to eat a hotdog while holding it, Altmann says parents could still cut the dog in half longways to help reduce choking risk.

When can parents stop cutting hotdogs for kids?

Usually around age four is when the choking risk is reduced because children are a little more aware, their throats are a little bit bigger and they are able to handle things that need to be chewed a little more before they swallow them, Altmann said.

What to do in a choking situation

“Make sure the child is really choking,” Altmann said. If a child is coughing or talking, there’s a chance the child can push the food out on his or her own.

But look for the following signs of a choking child: being unable to breathe; gasping or wheezing; unable to talk; turning blue; grasping at their throat; waving their arms; appearing panicked; and going limp or unconscious.

If a child is choking, call 911 and start a rescue procedure such as back-blows for infants or the Heimlich manoeuvre for older kids.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press