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  1. Metals and Your Food

Lead in Food, Foodwares, and Dietary Supplements

The FDA monitors and regulates levels of lead in foods, dietary supplements, foodwares, as well as in cosmetics. Lead in the environment can be naturally occurring, but it is often present from past industrial uses that contributed to environmental contamination. Most intentional uses of lead in products and processes are banned in the United States, including the use of lead solder to seal the external seams of metal cans. However, lead does not disappear from the environment over time and therefore these past uses can combine with natural levels to contaminate our food supply.

Lead can enter our food supply through a number of different ways, for example:

  • Lead in the environment can settle on or be absorbed by fruits or vegetables or cereal grains used as food as well as in ingredients added to food, including dietary supplements. Lead that gets into or on plants cannot be completely removed by washing or other food processing steps.
  • Lead can enter, inadvertently, through manufacturing processes. For example, plumbing that contains lead can contaminate water used in food production.
  • Lead in some pottery and other food contact surfaces can pass or leach lead into food or drinks when food is prepared, served, or stored in them.
  • Lead is still used in products made in other countries.

It is not possible to remove or completely prevent lead from entering the food supply.  However, through policy and regulatory changes on the manufacturing and use of products that contain lead, there have been dramatic reductions in lead exposure from environmental contamination over the past 50 years. Two of the most significant actions happened in the 1970s:

  • Manufacturing changes in the 1990’s, culminating with a ban on the use of lead solder in food cans.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s actions to ban the use of lead additives in gasoline, which greatly contributed to reductions in lead air pollution and lead contamination of crops.
Average Daily Dietary Exposure to Lead for 1-3 Year Olds

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The FDA has taken numerous additional steps to reduce sources of lead in foods including regulatory actions or guidance on lead in ceramicwares, in foil capsules on wine bottles, in bottled water, and in candy consumed by children.

Building on the work of FDA’s Toxic Element Work Group, in 2021, the FDA laid out our specific activities to reduce exposure to lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury from foods consumed by babies and young children in our Closer to Zero action plan. As part of FDA’s broader efforts, and to advance the goals of Closer to Zero, in April 2022, the agency announced draft guidance for industry on action levels for lead in juice. Later this year, draft guidance on action levels for lead in baby foods is also expected.

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