Food watchdog detects lead risk in confectionery chain

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Heavy metal risk to the confectionery supply chain comes under the spotlight this week in the US as health officials detect banned levels of lead in two different chocolate confectionery brands.

California's department of public health warned consumers not to eat Huevines Confitados Sabor chocolate products, made by Mexican firm Confitados Finos Del Bosque, after tests found the product contained as much as 0.20 parts per million (ppm) of lead.

California considers confectionery with lead levels in excess of 0.10 ppm to be contaminated.

And on the same day, consumers were alerted to even higher levels of lead detected in individually wrapped brown sweets made by Malaysian firm Kee Wee Hup Kee Food Manufacture.

Analysis of the Ego Hao Jin Bang brand found the confectionery contained over seven times the legal amount, with levels reaching as much as 0.73 ppm of lead.

Lead, a heavy metal, is particularly harmful to babies, young children and developing foetuses, and can lead to learning disabilities as well as behavioral disorders.

"Consumers in possession of Ego Hao Jin Bang candy should discard them immediately,"​ warned the Californian health officials, adding that pregnant women and parents of children who may have consumed this sweet should consult their doctors "to determine if medical testing is needed."

The Malaysian manufacturer said this week that it has recalled the confectionery brand from global markets. Indeed, an Associated Press report writes that a spokesperson at Kee Wee Hup Kee Food Manufacture said the sweets may have been contaminated during production, adding that the company was still investigating.

Stringent rules in Europe lay down strict concentrations of metal elements - such as aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron and lead - in a variety of ingredients.

Metals and other elements can be present in food either naturally, as a result of human activities, such as farming, industry or car exhausts, from contamination during manufacture/processing and storage, or by direct addition. Excessive amounts of any metal could be potentially dangerous.

In 2006 the European Commission widened the scope of limits on heavy metals in foods, cleared the path for Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 of 19 December 200 that sets maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs.

The new regulation consolidated and replaced European Commission regulation 466/2001 and its previous amendments, and introduced changes that require food processors to take greater care in the sourcing of the ingredients used in their products.

Other changes include an amendment on measures applying to dried, diluted, processed and compound foodstuffs. This would require food businesses to provide data on the specific concentration or dilution factors used for their products.

There is still a large amount of work to be done in this field. Some metals and other elements, such as copper, manganese and zinc, can act as nutrients and are essential for health, while others, for example, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, have no known beneficial health effects.

In 2006, the UK's watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FDA) investigated 1342, frequently high profile, contamination incidents in the UK.

They found that the major categories of incidents were: environmental contamination (fires and spills/leaks) 28 per cent; natural chemical contamination (mycotoxins, algal toxins and others) 13 per cent; microbiological contamination - Salmonella, Listeria, verocytotoxin producing E.Coli et al - at 11 per cent; and physical contamination, such as pieces of plastic, glass, metal etc, reached 10 per cent.

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