Fruit juices are known to be high in sugars, but they also could pose another health risk: potentially harmful levels of heavy metals, according to new testing conducted by Yonkers, N.Y.-based Consumer Reports (CR), the nonprofit advocacy organization. In its analysis of 45 popular fruit juices sold across the country, CR found that nearly half contained elevated levels of inorganic arsenic, lead, or cadmium, which are elements commonly known as heavy metals.
Children, who are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of heavy metals, consume a lot of fruit juice. More than 80% of parents of children three and under give their kids juice at least sometimes, according to a recent national Consumer Reports survey. In 74% of those cases, kids drink juice once a day or more. Yet, ingesting heavy metals can put kids at risk for lowered IQ, behavioral problems, type-2 diabetes, and cancer, among other health issues, depending on how long they are exposed to these toxins.
“Our latest tests found that some fruit juices have elevated levels of heavy metals that could pose health risks, especially to children,” said Chief Scientific Officer James Dickerson. “However, we are pleased to see lower levels of heavy metals than when we last tested for these elements several years ago. This suggests that safer juices can be produced, and we encourage the industry to act to further reduce risk because we know it is possible.”
Heavy metals can harm adults, too. Even modest amounts over time may raise the risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancer; cognitive and reproductive problems; and type 2 diabetes, among other conditions. “The risk comes from chronic exposure, and that risk is avoidable,” Dickerson added.
“Families today face too many hidden hazards, in both the food and drinks we consume and the products and services we rely on,” said President and CEO Marta L. Tellado. “Shining a light on those hazards is the first step toward rooting them out. We remain committed to working with consumers, the industry, and the government to produce food that we can all trust.”
In 2011, Consumer Reports found elevated levels of inorganic arsenic and lead in apple and grape juices. These latest tests were conducted to see whether products have improved since then, to examine other types of juice, and to test for additional heavy metals (cadmium and mercury). This time CR tested 45 non-refrigerated, ready-to-drink juices in four flavors: apple, fruit juice blends, grape, and pear. The samples were from 24 different national, store, and private-label brands. Among CR’s findings:
- Every product had measurable levels of at least one of these heavy metals: cadmium, inorganic arsenic, lead, or mercury.
- 21 (47%) of the 45 juices had concerning levels of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, and/or lead. (None contained concerning levels of mercury.)
- 7 juices could harm children who drink half a cup or more a day, and 9 more pose risks to kids at one cup or more a day.
- 10 of the juices pose a risk to adults: 5 at half a cup or more per day, and 5 more at one cup or more a day.
- Grape juice and juice blends had the highest average heavy metal levels. Two Welch’s products, Welch’s 100% Juice Antioxidant Superberry and Welch’s 100% Concord Grape Juice had lead levels that exceeded the FDA standard for bottled water.
- Organic juices did not have lower levels of heavy metals than conventional ones.
In light of the findings, Consumer Reports is calling on the government to seek to keep heavy metal levels in food as low as possible. This includes putting limits on heavy metals in all non-refrigerated, ready-to-drink fruit juices. Few such limits are in place. For example, in 2013, FDA proposed limiting the amount of inorganic arsenic in apple juice to 10 parts per billion (ppb), the federal arsenic standard for drinking water. In CR’s current tests, only one sample, Trader Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice registered higher. The FDA previously told CR that limit would be finalized by the end of 2018, but it is still not in place.
“We encourage the FDA to finalize the limit as soon as possible,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives. “And we have pushed the agency to establish an even lower threshold for inorganic arsenic in apple juice at 3 ppb since we know that’s possible — 58% of the juices we tested had levels below 3 ppb.”
Similarly, CR does not agree that the current FDA guideline for lead in juice (50 ppb) is low enough. The standard for bottled water is 5 ppb. As with arsenic, CR’s testing showed that it is possible for manufacturers to sharply reduce the amount of lead in their products. More than half (53%) of the tested juices had levels of 1 ppb or less. For cadmium, the FDA has not proposed a limit in juice. However, CR supports a limit of 1 ppb of cadmium in juice. Only three of the tested products had cadmium levels higher than that.
Consumer Reports encourages parents to limit children’s exposure to heavy metals in fruit juice, with the best way is by limiting how much fruit juice they drink. Parents should also limit their children’s consumption of other foods high in these toxins, such as rice and rice products, chocolate, and sweet potatoes.