Questions and Answers about Arsenic in Food and Beverages

Questions and Answers about Arsenic in Food and Beverages

What is arsenic, and why is it in our food supply?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our environment that is widely distributed within the earth’s crust.  It is present in the air, soil, and water from which our food and beverages are grown and harvested. 

It enters the environment through both natural and manmade sources such as mineral ore processing or from various agricultural applications.  Therefore, low levels of arsenic may be present in many foods through the soil, the environment and ground water sources.

There are two types of arsenic which can be found naturally in water, food, air and soil.  They are organic and inorganic and together are referred to as “total arsenic.”  Scientists agree that the organic arsenic is less of a concern in food.  In addition, our bodies naturally process inorganic arsenic ingested through food and water and converts it to the less harmful form of (organic) arsenic. 

Which foods contain arsenic?

Arsenic occurs naturally in a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains and fish.  It is also detected in drinking water.  Most recently, low levels of arsenic have been detected in rice and juice products.

I’ve heard lately about arsenic being detected in rice and juice products.  Are they safe to eat and drink?  Most importantly, are they safe to serve my family and children?

As part of a balanced diet, rice and juice products are safe for you and your family including pregnant women, infants and newborns.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not recommending any dietary changes at this time and will continue to monitor low levels of naturally occurring arsenic in our food supply and has determined that the amount of arsenic detected is too low to cause any immediate or short –term health effects. 

Please see:  “FDA Widens Look at Arsenic in Apple Juice” for more information

What’s being done to ensure the safety of food and beverage products?

The FDA has been monitoring arsenic content in food and beverages for more than 20 years and is committed to protecting public health.  FDA evaluates all available data to determine safety based on a number of factors:  dietary exposure, consumption and overall public health.  Additionally, FDA determines any potential health effects from all food sources.

Just recently, the FDA announced plans to ensure that juice continues to be a safe product for you and your family.  FDA substantially increased testing and analysis of apple juice to further enhance their monitoring efforts.  It is important to note that the levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice are far too low to cause any long or short term health concerns.  FDA is proposing an “action level” that is consistent with the Environmental Protection Agency’s for drinking water which is consumed more than apple juice and will continue to remain vigilant to minimize any negative health effects.

Please see:  “Why FDA Proposes an “Action Level” for Arsenic in Apple Juice and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement on arsenic in rice.

  • For juice – the FDA requires all juice producers, whether large or small, to implement good manufacturing practices and comply with a strict safety protocol for juice processing.  A Juice Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) – a safety regulation established by FDA requires juice companies to evaluate and address any safety concerns that may occur during processing.  In addition to HACCP, growers and suppliers are provided guidance on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to minimize the introduction of any potential harmful materials during growing and harvesting.
     
  • For rice – FDA has increased its testing of rice and rice products to determine the level and types of arsenic found in rice products as part of the comprehensive, science-based and risk-based approach the agency takes to minimize risks in the food supply from contaminants. FDA is conducting a risk assessment as the next step in a process to help manage possible risks associated with the consumption of rice and rice products.  The FDA will evaluate the full range of measures that may be appropriate for the agency and/or its federal partners to take to minimize, if necessary, possible risks associated with arsenic in rice and rice products. Any decisions on proposed voluntary or mandatory limits or other steps, if necessary, would occur following the completion of the risk assessment which will take several months to complete.

Most importantly, a recent statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests no dietary changes are necessary for infants and children.  “These FDA data are reassuring,” said Stephen R. Daniels, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition. “While there is inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products, it is at a level that should be safe for consumption across the population. Diets that follow the AAP guidelines include a variety of foods and a variety of grains and remain a healthful approach to eating for children and adolescents.

How does the food and beverage industry ensure the safety of products from other countries?

All ingredients, regardless of their country of origin must adhere to FDA’s requirements for safety.  The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 provides additional requirements to ensure food and food ingredients imported into the U.S. are safe for all consumers.

Putting Risk in Perspective:  Here’s what you need to Know . . .

The fact of the matter is that trace levels of naturally occurring elements such as arsenic can be detected in a number of foods and beverages.  The FDA, the AAP and others concur that there is no need to make any dietary changes at this time.  Through its Total Diet Study, recent data collection and ongoing risk assessment efforts, the FDA will continue to work on this issue as part of their role in ensuring the safety of the food supply, and will continue to keep the public informed of what’s being found.

Food safety is of utmost importance for government agencies, food producers and retailers.  They are all committed to providing a safe and affordable food supply for you and your family.

AUDIO

Food Safety expert Dr. Julie Jones says that all food contains very small levels of arsenic, but the real thing to worry about is getting a good diet rich in nutrients.

Jones also says that if you truly tried to eliminate every trace of arsenic from your diet, you'd "starve to death."

Additional Resources:

Rice Advice: When It Comes to Consumer Reports, Think Twice 

Consumer Update:  FDA Explores Impact of Arsenic in Rice

FDA:  Questions and Answers about Rice and Rice Products

FDA: Why FDA Proposes an 'Action Level' for Arsenic in Apple Juice

FDA Analysis of Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products

FDA:  Apple Juice is Safe to Drink

FDA Statement on Arsenic in Brown Rice Syrup

Total Diet Study

The New Food Safety Modernization Act

Rev:  September 2013