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.
University of Arizona (UA) – Jennifer Yamnitz – UA’s School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences has received a $1.5 million gift from Victor P. "Vic" Smith to establish an endowed chair in food safety education.
As companies strive to ensure the health and safety of consumers through all stages of the complex product supply chain, education and training in food safety is becoming increasingly important to the industry. From growing techniques, to processing, shipping, and final preparation, food must be protected from contamination. When contamination does occur, a process must be in place to quickly identify and remove tainted food so that it does not reach the end consumer.
"Education in food safety is becoming increasingly important in our lives," said Patricia Stock, interim director of the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences. "The food safety bachelor's degree was created to provide a platform to educate and prepare our students to become the lead force in the agriculture food safety industry. The generous contribution of Mr. Smith will not only contribute to the enhancement of student educational and engagement opportunities, but will also help increase the visibility of our food safety program at the national and international levels."
Stock has selected Margarethe Cooper, an assistant professor of practice in animal and comparative biomedical sciences, to be the inaugural holder of the Victor P. Smith Endowed Chair in Food Safety Education.
During her postdoctoral training at the UA, Cooper studied the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni in the food chain. She was also a research affiliate for USDA in Albany, Calif., where she conducted research in the food safety and microbiology unit, analyzing the molecular interaction of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on lettuce using next-generation sequencing. The support of the endowed chair will help Cooper further her research in food toxicology while training students to fill food safety roles in domestic and international businesses.
"Since its establishment as a land-grant university, the UA has taken very seriously its commitment to partnering with the state's agricultural industry by working with growers and ranchers to solve challenges, translate research into real-time best practices, and strengthen Arizona's economy," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "This gift from Victor Smith will help us do even more of that work by supporting both research and education in food safety. We are so grateful for his generosity and his partnership."
Smith is CEO of JV Smith Cos. Based in Yuma, Ariz., JV Smith Cos. is a diverse group of operations with farming, cooling, distribution facilities and shipping capacities in Arizona, California, Colorado, and the Baja peninsula of Mexico. These operations produce a variety of commodities, including lettuce, spinach, carrots, celery and green onions. In his role, Smith is responsible for oversight of nine common controlled business units: Skyview Cooling Co., JV Farms, JV Farms Organic, Triangle Farms, Promotora Agricola El Toro, El Toro U.S.A., Skyline Potato, Southern Colorado Farms and Skyline Land.
Smith grew up in Pueblo, Colo. He studied economics and business law at the University of Colorado from 1970 to 1974. He went on to study finance at Arizona State University in 1975. He joined Skyview Cooling Co. in the fall of 1975 and quickly earned a leadership role, becoming vice president in 1977. In 1988, he became president of Skyview Cooling Co. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Smith added leadership roles in other JV Smith companies to his portfolio. In 2012, he accepted his current role as CEO with oversight of all eight of the affiliated companies.
In addition to his work with JV Smith Cos., Smith is actively involved in Arizona community and agricultural organizations, having served on more than a dozen boards over the past 30 years. He is currently a board member for the Western Growers Association, the Produce Marketing Association, the Arizona Commerce Authority and the Arizona Department of Agriculture Advisory Council. Smith is also a longtime supporter of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In 2005, he named a conference room for his parents in the Glen G. Curtis Building at the Yuma Experiment Station. He also helped to establish the Yuma Center for Excellence in Desert Agriculture.
"Over the years, Vic has been not only one of our biggest supporters, but an inspiration to me to innovate and a leadership mentor," said Shane Burgess, UA vice president for agriculture, life and veterinary sciences, and Cooperative Extension. "He is an exemplary advocate for great education that puts great science to work. His gifts to higher education demonstrate his belief that education is the key to changing lives and generating the future leaders of Arizona agribusiness. He is especially excited that our food safety curriculum will be taught in Spanish as well as English, and so will be even more accessible to professionals already working in this industry."
Endowed chairs are vitally important to the university's future, said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the UA Foundation.
"Vic Smith has made a gift that will keep the UA at the forefront of this field and provide opportunities to generations of deserving faculty and students," Roczniak said.
"He is known for promoting the use of technology in harvesting, quality control, and worker safety, and has developed, and inspired others to develop, innovations that have advanced his entire industry," Burgess said. "He's completely changed the sector he's been in for the past 30 years. He's a Fourth Industrial Revolution visionary."
A New York Times article by Senior Editor for Digital Training Eric Athas who has a five-year-old son allergic to almonds and hazelnuts, discusses the difficulties of grocery shopping for those with food allergies. The article includes a number of stories of real people facing the challenges – and life-threatening repercussions – of food allergies, and what is being done by consumers, advocacy groups, and manufacturers.
- A push is being made by advocacy groups to mandate sesame labeling, with FDA currently considering whether to add sesame to the list of major allergens. “Sesame should be included as one of the top allergens that needs to be disclosed on labels,” said Lisa G. Gable, chief executive of Food Allergy Research & Education Chief Executive Lisa G. Gable, in the article. Sesame labeling is already mandated in Canada, the European Union and Australia.
- Although “precautionary allergen labeling,” is intended to alert consumers to some allergen risks, the labels are unregulated, so their meanings differ from company to company. The article notes a 2017 study, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, which showed that consumers make “risk assessments” based on the words used in this kind of labeling. “We’re making consumers decide, based on the wording of that precautionary allergen label, what seems safe for themselves or their child, and I think that’s a huge issue,” said Dr. Ruchi S. Gupta, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago and an author of the study. Thus, consumers want regulations to include labeling for possible cross contact of allergens.
- The article also notes the number of food recalls that involve erroneous labeling, with food made using one of the eight major allergens not properly labeled. In 2018, about one-third of F.D.A. recalls involved prepackaged foods that were erroneously labeled, according to data compiled by the agency.
To provide the manufacturer viewpoint, NYT cites Nestlé USA Director of Food Safety David C. Clifford, as stating that the key is applying “allergen management” across the expansive and complex operation, and describing Nestlé’s approach as “objective, science-based, risk-based.” Clifford’s team also conducts allergen safety training throughout the company, he said. “It’s a very serious responsibility that we have to feed the public, and the responsibilities around these systems extend horizontally across the organization.”
The article also cites a statement from The Hershey Company, which runs a training program for employees that “includes video interviews with allergic children and their families who face the challenges of allergen management on a personal level every day of their lives.”
Advising parents to reach out directly to food manufacturers, even if it is time-consuming, the author notes, Manufacturers like these cater to the allergy community, using branding to make it clear their foods are clear of allergens.”