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  1. Metals and Your Food

Lead in Food, Foodwares, and Dietary Supplements

The FDA monitors and regulates levels of lead in certain foods, foodwares, dietary supplements, and cosmetics, because of its potential to cause serious health problems. Lead in the soil can be naturally occurring, but a lot of it comes from industrial uses and environmental contamination. Though most intentional uses of lead are now banned in the United States, previously lead was used in a variety of products and processes. For example, lead was added to household paints, used in soldering plumbing and cans, and added to gasoline and pesticides. Lead is still often used in products made in other countries.

Lead occurs in foods because of its presence in the environment. Lead can enter our foods supply, because:

  • Lead in the soil can settle on or be absorbed by plants grown for fruits or vegetables or plants used as ingredients in food, including dietary supplements.
  • Lead that gets into or on plants cannot be completely removed by washing or other food processing steps.
  • Lead in plants or water may also be ingested and absorbed by the animals we eat, which is then passed on to us.
  • Lead can enter, inadvertently, through manufacturing processes. For example, plumbing that contains lead can contaminate water used in food production.
  • Lead in some pottery and other food contact surfaces containing lead can pass or leach lead into food or drinks when food is prepared, served, or stored in them.

Lead, like other heavy metals, does not biodegrade or disappear from the environment over time. Although lead levels in the food supply decreased dramatically between the 1970s-1990s, low levels of lead continue to be detected in some foods due to the continued presence of lead in the environment. It is not possible to remove or completely prevent lead from entering the food supply. The FDA, therefore, seeks to limit consumer exposure to lead in foods to the greatest extent feasible. As part of this effort, in 2017, the FDA created the Toxic Elements Working Group, in part, to reevaluate when the FDA should take action on measured levels of lead in particular foods.

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