Arsenic may be present in food from the environment where foods are grown, raised, or processed. The levels of arsenic in the environment can vary depending on natural geographical makeup and proximity to past or current use or manufacturing of products made with arsenic. For example, arsenic levels are higher in certain soils and rocks and where arsenic-containing pesticides were once used on food crops or from the current use of those pesticides on non-food crops, and pollution from mining, fracking, and coal-fired power plants.
Because arsenic exposure at certain levels can be harmful to health, the FDA monitors and regulates levels of arsenic in foods, including dietary supplements, and cosmetics. While it is not possible to completely prevent arsenic from entering the food supply, for foods that contain arsenic, it may be possible to reduce levels through changes to agricultural or manufacturing practices. By law, food manufacturers have a responsibility to significantly minimize or prevent chemical hazards when needed.
To determine if the level of arsenic in a food is a potential health concern, the FDA considers the toxicity of arsenic and potential exposure based on the level measured in the food and estimated consumption. We also may consider the risks specific to vulnerable subpopulations (e.g., very young children). If the agency finds that the level of arsenic causes a food to be unsafe, we will take regulatory action. This may include working with the manufacturer to resolve the issue, and as necessary, taking steps to prevent the product from entering, or remaining, in the U.S. market.
Among the FDA’s top priorities is maintaining access to foods that are sources of nutrients while limiting consumer exposure to contaminants. Having adequate nutrition is vital to growth and development for babies and children and helps promote health and prevent disease throughout our lifespan. The FDA collaborates with state and federal partners, industry, and other stakeholders to identify and facilitate the implementation of sustainable and effective strategies for growing, sourcing, processing, and manufacturing foods that contain lower levels of environmental contaminants, such as arsenic, while maintaining their nutritional quality and accessibility.
For more information about the FDA’s specific activities to reduce exposure to arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium from foods consumed by babies and young children, please visit the Closer to Zero page.
Arsenic in the environment can be taken up by plants and ingested by animals and enter the food supply. It is more common in certain foods and foods grown in geographical areas with higher levels of arsenic. Arsenic can also enter food during processing, for example when contaminated water is added to a food or when processing aids for filtering juices contain arsenic. According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common source of high levels of inorganic arsenic is contaminated drinking water. Because private well water is not routinely tested by government agencies, people who get their water from private wells should check their state’s guidelines for recommended testing schedules for arsenic (and other contaminants) and contact their state drinking water well program if a problem is suspected.
Testing results that detect arsenic do not necessarily mean the food should be avoided. Because many of the most nutritious foods can also contain contaminants, consumers should eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within the main food groups of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein foods. This is good for nutrition and can also limit exposure to a contaminant from a specific food. In addition, research studies have found that good nutrition can also help protect from the effects of exposure to contaminants.
The FDA’s goal is to limit consumer exposure to arsenic, with a focus on protecting the very young, through developing regulations, action levels, and providing education information.
Resources from the FDA
- What You Can Do to Limit Exposure to Arsenic
- What You Can Do to Limit Exposure to Arsenic and Lead from Juices
- Help Protect Children from Environmental Contaminants, Healthy Food Choices for Your Baby Aged 6-12 Months
- Bottled Water Everywhere: Keeping It Safe
- FDA Regulates the Safety of Bottled Water Beverages Including Flavored Water and Nutrient-Added Water Beverages
- Total Diet Study
Resources from Other Federal Government Agencies
- United States Environmental Protection Agency
- United States Environmental Protection Agency Drink Water Contaminants – Standards and Regulations
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Private Drinking Well Water Programs in Your State
- United States Environmental Protection Agency—Heavy Metals in Cultural Products
- United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
- National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Arsenic is toxic to humans and can affect people of any age or health status. The potential for long-term adverse health effects from consuming food contaminated with arsenic vary depending on the level of arsenic in the food; age of the consumer; length, amount, and frequency of exposure to arsenic in the food; and other exposures happening at the same time—either to arsenic from other sources, or other contaminants or to beneficial nutrients.
Current research indicates that inorganic arsenic is more dangerous than organic arsenic and the health effects from exposure are more severe. Organic arsenic compounds contain arsenic with carbon; and are not related to organic farming practices. Some scientific studies have shown that two forms of organic arsenic found in certain foods, dimethylarsinic acid (DMA) and monomethylarsonic acid (MMA), may be a health concern. The FDA is monitoring emerging research on possible health risks from these forms of organic arsenic and will continue to monitor both inorganic and organic forms of arsenic in foods.
Exposure to high levels of arsenic during times of active brain development is associated with adverse neurological effects such as learning disabilities, behavior difficulties, and lowered IQ. Fetuses, infants, and children are particularly vulnerable to the potential harmful effects from arsenic exposure because of their smaller body sizes and rapid metabolism and growth.
For adults, long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic has been associated with skin disorders and increased risks for skin, bladder, and lung cancers, and for cardiovascular disease. For people of all ages, short-term exposure to very high amounts of inorganic arsenic can result in nausea, vomiting, bruising, and numbness or burning sensations in the hands and feet.
More information about health effects can be found by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The FDA tests food for environmental contaminants, like arsenic, to monitor the safety of the U.S. food supply, enforce FDA regulations, inform agency guidance to industry, and provide the public with accurate, science-based information. Testing may be targeted to a specific category of food, such as foods commonly eaten by children under 2 years of age, or to a specific food or food group. Testing may also be conducted in response to reports of elevated contaminant levels in certain foods. Testing may occur at FDA laboratories, laboratories we contract with, or at state laboratories as part of our cooperative agreement with states.
The FDA tests for total arsenic levels in foods. If needed, the FDA can further test samples to determine the levels of organic and inorganic arsenic species. The FDA tests for arsenic through:
- the Total Diet Study;
- the FDA’s Toxic Elements in Food and Foodware, and Radionuclides in Food compliance program; and
- Other surveys, which may be conducted annually or in response to reports of elevated contaminant levels in certain products or to focus on a specific food or food group.
In addition, the FDA has been conducting research to optimize testing methods to measure increasingly smaller amounts of these environmental contaminants.
Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products Sampling Results
- Analytical Results: Testing for Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereal for Infants - PDF, in XLSX
Posted March 2020
- Analytical Results from Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereals for Infants, Non-rice Infant Cereal and Other Foods Commonly Eaten by Infants and Toddlers - PDF, in XLSX
Posted April 2016
- Analytical Results from Inorganic Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products Sampling - PDF
Posted September 2013
Arsenic in Apple Juice Sampling Results
- Analytical Results for Total Arsenic in Single-Strength Apple Juice-TEP (FY2013-FY2022)
Posted December 2022
- Speciation Results from Arsenic Analysis in Single-Strength Apple Juice -TEP (FY2013-FY2022)
Posted December 2022
- Analytical Results of Arsenic in Single-Strength Apple Juice - 2011 (ORA Sampling Assignment 2011102701)
Posted December 2011
- Analytical Results for Arsenic in Apple Juice - 2005-2011
Updated December 2011
- Analytical Results Arsenic in Pear Juice - 2005-2011
Updated February 14, 2012
Arsenic in Food Intended for Babies and Young Children Sampling Results
- Analytical Results for Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury in Foods Intended for Babies and Young Children- TEP (FY2008-FY2021) in PDF, in XLSX
Sampled under the FDA’s Toxic Elements in Food and Foodware, and Radionuclides in Food – Import and Domestic Compliance Program, Posted March 2023
Scientific Articles and Reports
- A survey of toxic elements in ready to eat baby foods in the US market 2021 (2022)
- FDA Total Diet Study (TDS) FY2018-FY2020 Elements Report and Data (2022)
- Arsenic Species in Seaweeds Commercially Available in the United States (2021)
- Market Basket Survey of Arsenic Species in the Top Ten Most Consumed Seafoods in the United States (2019)
- Speciation analysis of arsenic in seafood and seaweed: Part I—evaluation and optimization of methods (2018) and Speciation analysis of arsenic in seafood and seaweed: Part II—single laboratory validation of method (2018)
- Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products Risk Assessment (2016)
- Cooking rice in excess water reduces both arsenic and enriched vitamins in the cooked grain (2015)
- Quantitative Assessment of Inorganic Arsenic in Apple Juice (2013)
- Peer Review Report on the Risk Assessment of Arsenic in Apple Juice (2012)
International Scientific Activities
FDA experts participate in the international standard-setting body, Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex). The purpose of Codex is to protect the health of consumers and promote fair trade practices by adopting scientifically based standards, guidelines, and codes of practice across all areas of food safety and quality. Its work includes reviewing the scientific data concerning contaminant levels in foods. These international discussions can lead to recommendations for standards individual countries may adopt and codes of practice, such as the Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Arsenic Contamination in Rice, to prevent or reduce the presence of contaminants in food.
There are no FDA regulations that authorize arsenic for use as a color additive or food additive. The FDA seeks to limit the amount of arsenic in foods when it is not otherwise possible to prevent arsenic entirely.
It is the legal responsibility of companies that grow or produce foods, or manufacture products intended for use with foods sold in the U.S., to comply with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and FDA’s regulations.
If the FDA determines that the level of arsenic causes the food to be unsafe, the agency will take regulatory action. This may include working with the manufacturer to resolve the issue, and as necessary, taking steps to prevent the product from entering, or remaining, in the U.S. market.
Bottled Water Regulation: The FDA limits the level of arsenic (as well as other contaminants) in bottled water by establishing allowable levels in the quality standard for bottled water. For arsenic, this level is set to 10 ppb, the same amount allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for public drinking water.
- 21 CFR Part 129 - Processing and Bottling of Bottled Drinking Water
- 21 CFR Part 165.110 - Bottled Water
Import Alerts and Enforcement
The FDA issues import alerts to prevent potentially violative products from being distributed in the United States. The agency has issued import alerts for certain foods from certain manufacturers that may pose a food safety hazard due to the presence of elevated levels of arsenic.
Guidance for Industry
The FDA issues guidance for industry to describe the agency’s current thinking on a regulatory issue. For example, guidance on action levels communicates to industry the level of contaminants in foods at which the FDA may take enforcement action. Unlike regulations, guidance is not legally binding for the FDA or industry.
Guidance for Industry and Support Documents by Date Issued