Arsenic in Fruits, Juices, and Vegetables

Eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health, but some types of fruits, juices, and vegetables have more arsenic than others. Vary what you eat, particularly if you are exposed to arsenic through private well water, other foods or other sources.

Should you be concerned about arsenic in fruits, juices and vegetables?

Not usually. Making fruits and vegetables a regular part of your daily diet is important for good health at all ages. Since some fruits and vegetables have more arsenic than others, vary what you eat and avoid eating one kind of food all the time if it has higher levels of arsenic. If you could be exposed to arsenic from well water, other foods or other sources, make sure to reduce your total arsenic exposure.

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Be Proactive

  • Keep eating fruits and vegetables, since they are so good for your health.
  • Review “Where is the arsenic?” below, to learn where the arsenic goes in the plants you like to eat.
  • Vary the fruits and vegetables that you eat, particularly if you are exposed to arsenic through private well water, other foods or other sources. Some fruits and veggies have more arsenic than others, so you don’t want to eat too much of any one kind.
  • Always wash all fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking them and if you can, scrub them with a brush to help you get rid of any soil with arsenic in it.

If You Grow Your Own

  • Test your soil for arsenic and other metals.
  • Talk with your town, city or state health department or Cooperative Extension Service to ask about soil testing procedures.
  • Remove soil, wash fruits and vegetables before bringing them into your home, then scrub with a brush.
  • If you are a home gardener in an area with high arsenic in the soil (see locations with higher risk of arsenic exposure), limit the amount of lettuce, radishes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage you eat.
  • The Garden Roots project at the University of Arizona provides more information on growing your own garden safely.

Lower the Juice

  • Limit children’s fruit juice consumption to 4-6 ounces a day or less, or eat whole fruits instead. Review information from the U.S Food and Drug Administration (scroll to “FDA Monitoring and Testing of Arsenic in Food…”) on apple and pear juice, and from Consumer Reports on metals in some fruit juices. Some juices, like apple, pear or grape, can have higher amounts of arsenic.

Where is the arsenic?

Plants absorb arsenic from the soil in varying amounts and move it to different parts depending on the type of plant. Arsenic occurs naturally in soil, but arsenic containing chemicals were historically used on orchard fruit trees in the U.S. Although these chemicals are no longer used in this country, arsenic can stay in the soil for long periods of time. Other human activities can also deposit arsenic in soil and certain high risk locations are more likely to have arsenic.

  • Fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, peas, beans, corn, melons and strawberries – absorb very little arsenic in the parts that you eat.
  • Leafy vegetables like lettuce, collard greens, kale, mustard and turnip greens – store more arsenic in the leaves than other types of vegetables do but not enough to be of concern.
  • Root vegetables like beets, turnips, carrots, radishes and potatoes – have arsenic mostly in their skins. Peeling these vegetables will get rid of most of the arsenic, but avoid eating the peel or composting as this would put arsenic back into the soil.
  • Apples, pears and grapes – absorb some arsenic that occurs naturally in soil or came from past use of pesticides.
  • Apple, pear and grape juice – may contain low amounts of arsenic since it is present in the fruit. Juices you mix from concentrate could have higher arsenic if made with arsenic-containing water.
  • Apple seeds contain cyanide – not arsenic – and the hard coating of the seed protects you from the small amount in each seed.

Is there regulation of arsenic in fruits, juices and vegetables?

No. In July 2013, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration proposed an action level (scroll to “FDA Regulations and Guidance to Industry to Limit Arsenic in Food”) of 10 parts per billion for inorganic arsenic in apple juice, which is the same as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for arsenic in public drinking water supplies.

Apple juice has received a lot of attention as a potential source of higher arsenic exposure, particularly for children. Some fruit juices, imported from other countries which still use arsenic-based pesticides, have also shown higher arsenic levels.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says it is not necessary to offer children any juice to have a well-balanced, healthy diet, and recommends limited intake of all sweet beverages, including juice.

“Most people are exposed to very little arsenic in fruits and vegetables. Arsenic uptake by a plant depends on the type of fruit or vegetable and soil characteristics. If you are a home gardener, test your soil for arsenic, since soil in some areas of the country can contain arsenic that is very high. Carefully washing your garden crops is an important step to reducing arsenic exposure from soil that remains on the food you eat.”

Dr. Monica Ramirez-Andreotta, University of Arizona