Questions & Answers: Apple Juice and Arsenic
July 15, 2013
What is arsenic?
Arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally occurring substance or as a result of contamination from human activity. It is found in water, air, food and soil.
There are two general types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. The inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful forms, while the organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless.* Because both forms of arsenic have been found in soil, small amounts may be found in certain food and beverage products, including fruit juices and juice concentrates.
* Some scientific studies have shown that two forms of organic arsenic found in apple juice, dimethylarsinic acid (DMA) and monomethylarsonic acid (MMA), may also be a health concern.
Are apple and other fruit juices safe to drink?
The FDA has been testing for arsenic in apple juice and other fruit juices for decades as part of FDA programs that look for harmful substances in food. We continue to find the vast majority of apple juice tested to contain low levels of arsenic. The FDA is confident in the overall safety of apple juice consumed in this country. This is based on testing and analysis of arsenic in apple juice using the most sophisticated methods as well as a risk assessment that the agency recently completed. The risk assessment takes into account the amounts of apple juice typically consumed by children and adults.
Why is arsenic being found in fruit juices?
Organic and inorganic forms of arsenic can be found in soil, and as a result, small amounts may be found in certain food and beverage products.
Arsenic-based pesticides were commonly used in United States agricultural production up until 1970, when more effective substances became available. As a result, trace levels of organic and inorganic forms of arsenic can be detected in some agricultural settings, which may lead to small amounts of arsenic in certain foods and beverages.
Can consumers choose apple juice with less arsenic by looking at where it is made?
The juice sold by any one company can be made from concentrate that is literally sourced throughout the world, including U.S. domestic sources. For example, Asia and South America are major suppliers of apple juice concentrate. Even if a company buys concentrate from only one supplier in a country, such as Argentina, that supplier may be getting juice from a dozen or more different farms within Argentina. If you test enough juice from such a supplier, you will find some lots with higher amounts of arsenic than others. This could be due to different amounts of arsenic in orchard soils.
Testing a small number of samples of different brands of juice only provides a snapshot in time of how much arsenic was in a particular lot of juice. Without a long term survey of many lots of juice from different companies, there is not sufficient data to say one company has lower amounts of arsenic in its juice than any other company.
Does organic apple juice have less arsenic than non-organic apple juice?
The FDA is unaware of any data that shows that organic juice tends to have less arsenic than non-organic apple juice. Even organic apples come from trees that grow in soil that may contain arsenic. The FDA is not aware of any data that shows a difference in the amount of arsenic found in organic juice vs. non-organic juice.
Has FDA set a standard for arsenic in apple juice?
The FDA has proposed an “action level” of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in apple juice. This is the same level set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for arsenic in drinking water. An action level provides guidance to industry about a level of a substance that should be limited, if present in food. The FDA takes the action level into account when considering an enforcement action. The FDA has proposed the action level because the agency believes it will help keep out of the food supply even the occasional lot of apple juice with arsenic levels above the specified level. Following a comment period of 60 days, the FDA will review the comments submitted and decide on the next steps with respect to its proposed action level. Additionally, the FDA has been collecting samples of juices other than apple juice, such as grape and pear juice, and analysis is continuing.
Has FDA set a standard for arsenic in bottled water?
Yes. The maximum level of arsenic allowed in bottled water is 10 micrograms in one liter of bottled water or 10 parts per billion (ppb). As required under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA evaluated and adopted EPA's standard of 10 ppb for arsenic in public drinking water as the standard for bottled water for the protection of public health.
What does the FDA look for when testing juice for arsenic?
The FDA first tests the juice sample for total (organic and inorganic) arsenic to see if the levels are too high. When test results show total arsenic levels are too high, the FDA re-tests the sample for its inorganic arsenic content, the type of arsenic considered harmful to humans. Some scientific studies have shown that two forms of organic arsenic found in apple juice, dimethylarsinic acid (DMA) and monomethylarsonic acid (MMA), may also be a health concern, and because of this, the FDA is considering how any possible health risk from these two forms of organic arsenic should be evaluated. Moreover, in our most recent analysis of 94 samples of arsenic in apple juice, we found only trace amounts of DMA and six samples (6.2 percent) with detectable amounts of MMA.
What is the FDA doing to protect the public against arsenic in fruit juice?
The FDA has proposed an “action level” of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in apple juice. An action level provides guidance to industry about a level of a substance that should be limited, if present in food. The FDA takes the action level into account when considering an enforcement action. The FDA has proposed the action level because the agency believes it will help keep out of the food supply even the occasional lot of apple juice with arsenic levels above those permitted in drinking water.
The FDA collects and tests for arsenic, including inorganic arsenic, in fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates made in the United States as part of FDA programs that look for harmful substances in food. The FDA considers test results for inorganic arsenic on a case-by-case basis, and takes regulatory action as appropriate.
In December 2011, FDA released the results of its latest data collection and analysis for arsenic in 94 samples of arsenic in apple juice. Once again, these results show that while the individual levels of arsenic vary, the tested apple juice samples contained levels of arsenic that are low, with relatively few exceptions. In fact, 95 percent of the apple juice samples tested were below 10 ppb total arsenic; and 100 percent were below 10 ppb for inorganic arsenic.
The FDA also currently has an Import Alert for surveillance of arsenic, including inorganic arsenic, in fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. An Import Alert is a measure used by FDA to keep potentially dangerous products out of the United States.
Is the arsenic in apple juice predominantly organic or inorganic?
Due to limited data available to answer this question, in October 2011, the FDA collected and analyzed 94 samples of apple juices available for sale in the United States. Results from this data indicate that there are relatively low levels of arsenic in apple juice, with 95 percent of the apple juice samples tested being below 10 ppb total arsenic, but that the arsenic in these samples was predominantly the inorganic form.
Where can I go to get more information?