What is the health risk from eating candy with unsafe levels of
Lead exposure is especially dangerous to children and
pregnant women. In pregnant women, high levels of exposure may cause premature
delivery and poor growth of the fetus. Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous
system and brain when they are still developing, making it difficult
to learn, pay attention and perform well in school. Increased lead
levels have been associated with behavioral problems.
exposure can cause kidney damage in adults or children. Long-term
exposure to lead can result in decreased performance in some tests that measure
functions of the nervous system. It may also cause anemia and increases in blood
pressure. It can affect fertility, delaying puberty in women and decreasing
sperm production in men.
Exposure to very high blood
lead levels may cause seizures and death.
How does lead get into candy?
It is not entirely clear where the lead in many of the products is coming from, but products containing tamarind, chili powder or salt that is mined from certain parts of the world may have a higher likelihood of elevated levels of lead. Lead may also be introduced into the candy through improper drying, storing or grinding of the ingredients.
Are there types of candy that are more likely to have
lead than others?
Candy containing tamarind, chili powder
or salt that is mined from certain parts of the world may have a higher
likelihood of having elevated levels of lead. Candies with elevated lead levels
appear to primarily be imported from Mexico, Malaysia, China and
Why does this seem to be a problem
with imported candy, rather than candy that is produced in the United States?
Candies produced domestically are subject to inspection by
the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration. These agencies work together to ensure that the ingredients
used, and the manufacturing processes employed, produce a product that is safe
and unadulterated. Other countries may not be taking this multi-step approach.
What is the limit for lead in candy?
California considers candies with lead levels in excess of
0.10 parts per million to be contaminated.
How does the
CDPH detect lead in candy?
CDPH randomly selects the widest
variety of candy possible for testing to ensure it is monitoring all of the
various candy products sold in California. Staff looks for candies that have not
previously been tested to ensure testing is as comprehensive as
What happens when CDPH detects lead levels
above the limit?
notifies the manufacturer/distributor/importer of the candy of the laboratory
results, works with them to initiate a voluntary recall of the affected candy
and assists them in drafting notification letters.
CDPH issues a news release to alert the media and
CDPH collects the retail distribution information for the
affected candies and ensures that local health departments are informed of the
retailers in their jurisdictions that have received the candy, so they can be
contacted to ensure it is no longer being sold.
CDPH shares its testing results with the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration, so future imports of contaminated candies can be prevented
from entering commerce in the United States unless it can be demonstrated that
the problem has been corrected.
In addition to getting unsafe products off store shelves,
CDPH’s testing and notification to manufacturers helps them identify problems
within their operations, so they can put corrective actions in place to remove
lead from their candies and resume sales.
CDPH’s efforts have helped to raise public awareness
about the potential presence of lead in candy and other foods, and the overall
dangers of lead poisoning.
How can you tell if your candy contains
The only way to know is to have it tested in a
laboratory. The analytical
results for all of the candy tested by CDPH are available
online. If you think that you may have eaten candy with elevated levels of lead,
you should talk with your health care provider.
happens to the candy that has too much lead? What are the
manufacturers/distributors supposed to do with it?
that has been found to contain excess levels of lead is recalled by the
manufacturers/distributors so that it is removed from sale and can be properly
destroyed. Recalled candy is collected at the warehouse and arrangements are
made with the appropriate waste disposal company to take the product to a
landfill for destruction.
lead-contaminated candy, are there other ways people are exposed to lead?
Yes. In fact, lead exposure from food sources is only one
of many possible sources of elevated lead and it accounts for a very small
percentage of the lead poisoning cases in California. Exposure to lead is
cumulative and may involve more than one source:
Homes: Lead was routinely used in paint
before 1978, so older buildings may have lead-based paint on the walls or in the
dirt surrounding the structure, if the soil has been contaminated by chipping
paint or previous scraping or sanding of the paint. Older homes may also have
lead in the plumbing, which is released into the drinking water.
Household products: Lead can also be
found on products that may be used in a home, such as imported pottery and
Food/Cosmetics: In addition to candies,
other food products that may contain lead are certain spices and ethnic foods,
such as grasshoppers from Mexico. Traditional cosmetics, ritual substances and
some home remedies may contain high levels of lead.
Work or hobbies: People who work with
lead (such as in battery recycling, construction and renovation, and radiator
repair) may bring lead into the home on their clothes or in their cars. So can
people who contact lead through certain hobbies (such as making pottery or
stained glass, using lead fishing sinkers, or having contact with
Soil: Lead was routinely added to
gasoline and released into the air from vehicle exhaust until the mid-1990s.
This resulted in lead being deposited in dust and soil, which persists.
Industrial: Some industries emit lead
into the air from their factories.
What can I do to prevent lead poisoning and elevated
blood lead levels?
California regulations to prevent
childhood lead poisoning require that, for all children, the child’s health care
provider give anticipatory guidance to prevent lead exposure at every periodic
health assessment from age 6 months to 6 years. Blood lead testing is required
at 12 and 24 months for children enrolled in publicly supported programs, such
as Medi-Cal, Child Health and Disability Prevention, Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Head Start. Blood
lead testing is also required for other children considered at increased risk
for lead exposure.
Because young children often put their
hands and toys in their mouths, their hands and toys should be cleaned
frequently. This can prevent the transfer of lead from the environment into
their mouths. In addition, maintaining a good diet high in iron, calcium and
vitamin C reduces lead absorption by the child’s
Where can I get more information about lead
poisoning and prevention?
Department of Public Health Childhood Lead Poisoning
Prevention Branch (CLPPB) website has more information about
the effects of lead, prevention of lead exposure, blood lead testing/screening
and local, state-supported childhood lead poisoning prevention programs. The
CLPPB and local programs work to prevent lead exposure, and see that the
children exposed to lead are identified and receive appropriate
Here are some additional resources:
about the health effects of lead, prevention of childhood lead exposure, and
blood lead testing
information for local childhood lead poisoning prevention programs in California
The CLPPB includes the Lead-Related Construction
Program (LRC), which trains and certifies
construction professionals on how to identify and safely eliminate lead hazards
in homes and public buildings, so children, families and the construction
workers themselves are not exposed to lead hazards.
The CDPH Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
works to prevent lead exposure in the workplace, help workers avoid accidentally
bringing lead home to their families, identify lead-poisoned workers, and find
services for those who are poisoned.