Wednesday, December 5, 2018

New study shows traces of lead in spices

Lead pipes, contaminated soil and paint chips in pre-1978 homes are common sources of lead exposure for children. Recently however researchers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services concluded that cooking spices, herbal remedies and ceremonial powders should be added to that list as well. The study tested chili powder, red pepper, cumin, coriander, anise, turmeric and vanilla in 983 homes from January 2011 to January 2018 and found that spices in 7 of the homes had high levels of lead. As for how lead was able to get into these spices, researchers point to imports. The U.S. imports 95% of its spices from countries with heavy pollution from battery-manufacturing plants, mines and leaded gasoline. Additionally, spices are brought back into the country from travelers or purchased online.

Spices are not considered a source of food for kids by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) despite some being popular flavor choices for the age group. Vanilla, for example is used in sweets frequently consumed by children such as cupcakes, ice cream and milkshakes. In addition, there are many children whose parents come from cultures where spices are used more in cooking like Southeast Asia. Even more problematic and concerning is the fact that there is currently no limit on lead contamination in spices. For children, there is no safe blood lead level, and even low levels of exposure can lower IQ and decrease concentration. Adults are not protected from the effects of lead either; according to the CDC, men and women experience high blood pressure, reproductive issues, nerve complications, joint pain and concentration issues after consuming lead.

The researchers who performed the study recommend that “lead investigators samples spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders and attempt to document product origin and level of consumptions.” In addition, food regulators should test the products for lead and other heavy metals at the port. Finally, they urge the U.S. set a national limit on amount of lead allowed in spices. More on the study can be read here: