Lead in candy has accounted for 42 percent of food contamination warnings in California since 2006, a study found.
The University of California, San Francisco study reports that since the state passed a law on testing and monitoring candy in 2006, there have been more reports issued warning about lead in sweet treats – mostly imported ones – than for any other contamination.
As many as 10,000 children get lead poisoning in California each year, according to the study.
Recalling the Flint, Michigan water crisis, the study’s author urges consumers and policy-makers to be to ensure that lead-contaminated candies don’t end up in the hands of kids trick-or-treating this Halloween.
The popular black licorice candy, Red Vinces, were recalled for lead contamination in California in 2012
In the wake of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, the lead study author Dr Margaret Handley urges consumers to be mindful and watchful for lead contamination.
In California, 96.3 percent of lead warnings issued for imported food products between 2001 and 2014 were for candies, the UCSF study reports.
In the US, it’s estimated that more than 1 million children have lead poisoning. The contamination can cause brain and nervous system damage, developmental, learning and behavioral delays, and hearing and speech problems.
Lead poisoning can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, upset stomach and hyperactivity. But these symptoms – which are not dissimilar to familiar signs of a child who has had too much candy – often go unnoticed and diagnosed.
This year’s Halloween candy-spending is predicted to reach a record-breaking $9.1 billion, according to a report from the National Retail Federation.
The majority of the contaminated candies imported to California have come from Mexico (34 percent), China (24 percent) and India (20 percent).
Almost all of the candies that have been recalled in California for lead contamination in recent years have been imported, like Santos Rewadi Sugar, from India (left) and Tama Roca from Mexico (right)
Candies are prone to lead contamination when their ingredients are not processed and prepared properly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC also warns that led has been detected in candy wrappers, particularly those for imported candies. It may be that the ink used to print the wrappers contains lead that then seeps into the candies themselves.
The UCSF study’s findings suggest that lead contamination before 2007 – when its new testing program became widespread – was probably underreported.
A 2002 report published by the California Childhood Lead Poisoning and Prevention program found that about 15 percent of the 1,000 lead poisoning cases in California were linked to candy imported from Mexico.
The report led to legislation passed in 2006 and the Food and Drug Branch (FDB) of the California Department of Public Health now oversees candy testing and warnings.
The FDB’s website includes annual lists of tested candies. As of September 13, none of the candies tested this year have contained more than .005 parts per million (ppm), the permissible level in California.
The site also includes a list – although it appears to only have been kept up through 2013 – of candies that have been banned for led contamination. It includes candies from Mexico, India and Japan among others. Notably, there was a recall for the popular Red Vines liquorice candies in 2012, though it was again allowed to be sold in 2013.
‘As more lead sources are identified we must develop prevention approaches for all of them, and not just replace one prevention approach with another,’ Dr Handley said in a press release.
‘If there is anything we have learned from the lead poisoning disaster in Flint, Michigan, it is not to oversimplify or cut corners when it comes to identifying and removing sources of lead poisoning,’ she added.