FDA Proposes Limits for Lead in Baby Food

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new draft guidance to limit lead levels in food for babies and children under two years old.

The draft guidance, Action Levels for Lead in Food Intended for Babies and Young Children, covers processed foods, such as food packaged in jars, pouches, tubs, and boxes.

The FDA proposes the following action levels:

  • 10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits, vegetables (excluding single-ingredient root vegetables), mixtures (including grain and meat-based mixtures), yogurts, custards/puddings and single-ingredient meats.
  • 20 ppb for root vegetables (single ingredient).
  • 20 ppb for dry cereals.

“For babies and young children who eat the foods covered in today’s draft guidance, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in as much as a 24-27% reduction in exposure to lead from these foods,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. said in a statement.

A 2021 study found that 170 million Americans, or about half of the adult U.S. population, were exposed to dangerous levels of lead in early childhood. Research also revealed that 9 in 10 children born in the United States between 1951 and 1980 had blood-lead levels higher than the CDC threshold.

What are lead poisoning symptoms?

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the air, the soil, the water, and even in our homes. Exposure to lead primarily comes from human activities, such as the use of fossil fuels.

Like other contaminants, lead may be absorbed by fruits, vegetables, and grain crops. The presence of a contaminant does not automatically make the food unsafe to eat. However, consuming lead can cause illness or death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

It is impossible to tell if a food contains lead by looking at it or tasting it. The best way to know for sure is to test products in a laboratory.

Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning usually don’t appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated in the body. In children, symptoms may include:

  • Developmental delay and/or learning difficulties
  • Loss of appetite and/or eating things that are not food, such as paint chips
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability, sluggishness, and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting, and/or constipation
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures

As most children with elevated blood-lead levels do not show obvious symptoms, a blood test is the best way to determine if a child has been exposed to the contaminant.

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