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Lead in SpicesOne of the things Norbert and I both like to do is cook. Lucky for our wives, we’re pretty good at it.

One of my specialties is ethnic cooking, and I really enjoy trying new dishes from China, Morocco and India. So, I have tons of spices in my pantry.

I do too. That’s why I was interested in reports from earlier this year of Indian children in the Boston area diagnosed with lead poisoning. Investigators had ruled out the usual sources. But then they decided to look at seasonings and ceremonial powders used in the Indian culture.

They went to 15 Indian specialty stores and bought 86 spices and food products as well as 71 ceremonial powders. Among the food and spices they tested, including cardamom and chili powder, a quarter had more than 1 microgram of lead per gram of product.

65 percent of the ceremonial powders had similar levels of lead. The European Union has set two to three micrograms per gram of product as the upper threshold of acceptable lead levels.

So these foods and powders are below that, but researchers are concerned they could add to lead exposure from other sources. Altogether they would cause lead poisoning in these children.

Currently the Food and Drug Administration which oversees food safety in the US does not have specific guidelines for screening for lead in dried products like spices. However, remember, no amount of lead is safe.

Lead poisoning occurs when levels build up in the body, often over a period of months or years. Even small amounts can cause serious health problems especially in kids under six.

Their mental and physical development can be severely affected.

If you’d like to read the study which lists all the ingredients that tested positive for lead, visit our website.


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For more information…

For a summary of the research into the lead content of Indian spices and ceremonial powders go here.

The Food and Drug Administration updated its guidelines for the amount of lead in Candy that is likely to be consumed by children to a recommended maximum lead level of 0.1 ppm. However, it should be noted that lead accumulates in the body and can be toxic if sufficient quantities of candy even at these low levels are consumed.
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These recent reports of lead in spices are similar to those in 1993 and 1997 that implicated candy and other food from Mexico.
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For some practical suggestion about what to look for in children exposed to lead and how to avoid lead poisoning from spices go here.

The Mayo Clinic webpage has some excellent and accessible information about lead poisoning here.

One of our favorite sources for reliable health information is MedlinePlus which will direct you to information to help answer health questions. MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government agencies and health-related organizations. MedlinePlus also has extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and latest health news. their very informative and detailed information about lead poisoning, go here.


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