Some consumers are understandably surprised to learn that arsenic is present in water, air, and soil, and as a result, it can be found in certain foods and beverages, including apple juice and juice concentrates.
Arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally occurring substance and as a result of contamination from human activity, such as past use of fertilizers and arsenic-based pesticides, which may still be in the soil, explains Donald Zink, Ph.D, senior science advisor at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
“While environmental contaminants like arsenic are unavoidable in food,” says Zink, “the goal is to keep the levels of arsenic that people consume over the course of their lives as low as possible.”
That’s where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) come in. Their job is to monitor food and the environment and take action when needed to protect the American public.
FDA has been testing and monitoring fruit juices, including apple juice, for arsenic content for more than 20 years, says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. “We are confident in the overall safety of apple juice consumed in this country because we continue to find that apple juice, on average, contains low amounts of arsenic.”
In fact, FDA’s most recent tests done in 2010 and 2011 show on average about 3 parts of arsenic in every one billion parts of apple juice. That is lower than the 10 parts per billion set by EPA as the maximum level allowed in public drinking water.
“Our test results over many years support the overall safety of apple juice,” says Taylor, “but we see a small percentage of individual samples tested that contain higher levels of arsenic.”
“We want to minimize the public’s exposure to arsenic in foods as much as we can,” says Taylor. For that reason, FDA plans to consider all the relevant evidence and, based on this work, FDA may set a guidance or other maximum level to further reduce arsenic in apple juice and juice products.
To further protect the public health, FDA is also taking the following actions:
- Enhancing its surveillance of arsenic in apple juice and juice concentrate. The agency will shortly have results for an additional 90 samples of apple juice and juice concentrate, and soon after will sample additional types of juice and juice concentrates.
- Continuing to test samples of apple juice imported into the United States from China. The most recent results included more than 70 samples from China, and 95 percent of these contained less than the 10 ppb level used for drinking water.
- Working with the EPA to coordinate the review of the risk assessment being prepared and discussing other steps the two agencies can take to reduce the overall levels of arsenic in the environment and in foods.
The bottom line is that FDA is working hard to ensure the safety of the foods people consume and to do so based on the best science. And the best thing families can do is to consume a variety of foods and beverages and follow a well-balanced diet consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
Posted December 9, 2011