Getting Toxic Chemicals Out of Your Life: Lead in Baby Food

Twenty percent of baby food samples were found to contain lead, according to a report from the Environmental Defense Fund. The report did not name brand names.

Twenty percent of baby food samples were found to contain lead, according to a report from the Environmental Defense Fund. The report did not name brand names.

Parenthood is wrought with worry.  Children get into EVERYTHING and it seems that the many precautions we take as parents still fall short from protecting our children.  However, the more we know about the dangers around us, the more we can prepare ourselves and our children from being exposed to them.   A new study by the Environmental Defense Fund evaluated data collected by the Food and Drug Administration from 2003 to 2013 and found that 20 percent of baby food samples tested had detectable levels of lead.  This is very scary and every parent should be concerned.

According to the NPR article “Lead Detected in Baby Food Samples.  Pediatricians Say There’s No Safe Level”, the study included 2,164 baby food samples. They found 89 percent of grape juice samples, 86 percent of sweet potatoes samples and 47 percent of teething biscuits samples contained detectable levels of lead.  "The levels we found were relatively low, but when you add them up — with all the foods children eat ... it's significant," says study author Tom Neltner of the Environmental Defense Fund.

None of the baby food samples seemed to exceed the Food and Drug Administration's allowable levels of lead.  Yet, the FDA's current standards are old and in the process of being revised.  For example, the FDA’s allowable levels for lead in candy is 100 ppb (parts per billion); fruit juices 50 ppb; and bottled water 5 ppb.  I certainly do not want my child to ingest juice containing 49 ppb of lead, which is currently allowed under the FDA's standards.  The FDA’s explanation for failing to set a zero tolerance for lead in food is “Lead is in food because it is in the environment and lead cannot simply be removed from food. Absent our ability to prevent lead from entering the food supply, the FDA’s goal is to protect human health by ensuring that consumer exposure to lead is limited to the greatest extent feasible. For example, for bottled water we set an allowable level of 5 parts per billion having determined that this was achievable and the lowest level of lead that could be reliably measured in water.”  


To say that this explanation is unsatisfactory is an understatement.  We know that low lead levels are harmful and that continued ingestion of food with detectable lead levels will have long lasting effects on children.  The CDC concluded that "even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected."

How to Prevent Children’s Lead Exposure Through Food

1)    Try to make some of your infant’s food and freeze it in ice cube trays.  See our blog series called the Recipe Space for recipe ideas.

2)    Limit the amount of juice your children consume.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that children under the age of 1 should not drink any juice.

3)    Avoid buying infant foods that tested high for lead including sweet potatoes, teething biscuits, and grape fruit juice.

4)   Try to provide your children with diets high in iron, calcium and vitamin C, which can limit the absorption of lead.