<p>Lead was removed from gasoline and paint decades ago. However, new research from the Environmental Defense Fund in the US indicates that lead is much more common in food than most consumers realise. </p><p>There is no such thing as a safe level of lead in the blood and even small amounts can lower IQ and cause behavioral problems. The Environmental Defense Fund’s examination of data was collected by the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Total Diet Study (TDS) for the period from 2003 to 2013. It was found that 20% of more than 2,000 baby food samples and 14% of more than 10,000 other food samples had detectable levels of lead. Eight types of baby food had detectable lead levels in more than 40% of tested samples, a finding many consumers would see as unacceptable.</p><p>The FDA has managed the TDS for more than 40 years, purchasing and analysing as many as 280 different types of food and beverages from four regions of the country on an annual basis. Those samples are tested to monitor levels of roughly 800 different pesticides, metals, and other contaminants, including lead.</p><p>Lead levels were not evenly distributed. Fruit juices were much more likely than other types of baby food to contain detectable levels of lead and certain types of juices were especially affected.</p><p>Organised by the type of baby food, 89% of grape juice, 67% of mixed fruit, 55% of apple juice, and 45% of pear juice of 44 samples tested had detectable levels of lead. Root vegetables also tended to contain lead, with 86% of tested samples of sweet potato and 43% of tested samples of carrot baby foods had detectable levels of lead. In addition, 64% of tested samples of arrowroot cookies and 47% of tested samples of teething biscuits exhibited detectable levels of lead.</p><p>Furthermore, baby food versions of grape and apple juices were found to have higher detectable levels of lead than regular juices that were tested, which may point to processing techniques and technologies contributing to the issue.</p><p>Lead in food can come from a variety of sources, but the FDA believes that soil contamination may be the most common route. Lead itself can come from lead paint, leaded gasoline, food handling equipment, and lead arsenate pesticides once used in agriculture. Soil contamination may explain the tendency of root vegetables to have detectable levels of lead. The heavy metal has a tendency to bind to the skin of root vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes, and is not easily removed by cleaning or scrubbing.</p><p>If the issue does gain traction, it may dampen new product innovation in a couple of key areas. Root vegetables are currently increasing in popularity, with sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets perceived as being among the healthiest of food types. Nearly two-thirds of consumers globally (64%) believe that beets have a positive impact on health, according to a Q1 2017 GlobalData consumer survey. That belief could be obliterated if root vegetables were linked with lead contamination. Carrots, a root vegetable that has made strong inroads in packaged snacks and beverages, could also be vulnerable.</p><p>Detectable levels of lead in juice will not go over well with families that have young children. The juice industry is already reeling from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent recommendation that kids under the age of one avoid fruit juice, largely because of worries over sugar content (and obesity) as well as dental health issues. Add lead as a new issue to worry about and it looks like the hole that fruit juice finds itself in is getting deeper. Lead is a particularly worrisome problem for juice because the type of lead found in juice is soluble and is more easily absorbed by the body than other types of lead, like particulate lead.</p>The FDA says that it is 're-evaluating its standard' for the maximum daily intake level for lead exposure and the result is likely to be further curbs on acceptable levels of lead in food. Touting products as ‘lead safe’ could direct consumer attention towards the issue. However, if food producers were more pro-active, the issue would not be in the position it is now.