Arsenic in Food

little girl eatingDartmouth Superfund Research Program investigators have led efforts to learn how arsenic ends up in food and to identify food products with relatively high amounts of arsenic. A research project led by Mary Lou Guerinot, Ph.D., Arsenic Uptake, Transport and Accumulation in Plants, aims to understand the genetic control of arsenic uptake in plants, with the eventual goal of protecting our food from arsenic contamination. Our Trace Element Analysis Core (TEAC), which is led by Brian Jackson, Ph.D., specializes in low-level trace metal analysis and arsenic speciation of environmental and biological samples including food products and biomarkers of exposure. The TEAC is a valuable resource for the research project led by Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., Arsenic Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Exposure Assessment of Metals, that deepens the understanding of how much arsenic is in our food supply and whether this leads to elevated levels of arsenic in the human body, and investigates whether those levels may pose health concerns.

Visit our website, and learn about arsenic in food, water and other sources. Find out if your family might be exposed and follow the easy steps to reduce your exposure or check out the additional resources. The site is easy to access and read on a smart phone or tablet.

This animated diagram provides a great summary of what we currently know about arsenic exposure through food and water, and is featured on the Arsenic and You website.

Exposure to Arsenic through Food

Exposure to arsenic via water has long been a priority of public health agencies and scientists, but more recent studies and investigations have led to concerns about exposure to arsenic through food. In particular, recent studies have identified toxic arsenic in rice, rice-based food products (including breakfast cereals, cereal bars and energy shots among others), seaweed products and certain brands of juice. A growing body of evidence suggests that arsenic via food raises the same health concerns as exposure to arsenic through drinking water. The federal limit for the amount of arsenic in public drinking water, which is set by the Environmental Protection Agency, is 10 parts per billion (ppb). In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration lowered the limit for the allowable amount of arsenic in juice, but there is no limit for the amount of arsenic in rice and rice-products. The FDA has proposed a limit of 100 ppb for infant’s rice cereal to reduce exposure among the most vulnerable subpopulations; however, it has not been enforced yet. The FDA is currently collecting additional data and analyzing samples.

To explore many of these questions, the Research Translation Core coordinated and facilitated C-FARR (Collaborative on Food with Arsenic and associated Risk and Regulation), to address important issues surrounding arsenic in food. Guided by a steering committee and support staff, C-FARR convened a team of scientists and stakeholders to work together over a two-year period to gather and analyze data and publish a series of papers related to sources of arsenic and human exposure via food consumption.

Studies published by Dartmouth Superfund Research Program:
Our most recent papers 

Selected information prior to 2015:
Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup
Arsenic concentration and speciation in infant formulas and first foods
Rice consumption contributes to arsenic exposure in US women

Consumer Reports:
Heavy Metals in Baby Food (August 2018)
Study on Arsenic in Infant Rice Cereal (December 2017)
Consumer Reports Updates Investigation (November 2014)
Consumer Reports Investigation (October 2012)

Food and Drug Administration:
Arsenic in Food and Dietary Supplements

UK Food Standards Agency:
Arsenic in Rice

European Food Safety Authority:
Scientific Opinion on Arsenic in Food
EC Regulation in Rice Products

Institute for Agriculture and Industry:
Arsenic, Organic Formula and the Food System interview with Brian Jackson, Ph.D.:
Arsenic in Rice? An Update

Articles from Representatives of the Rice Industry:
Letter from the CEO of Lundberg Farms
Rice is an important, nutritional and safe part of a healthy diet
What Nutrition, Science and Medical Professionals are Saying

Deborah Blum Article: Cites Dartmouth Study and Reports on Arsenic in Rice Causing Genetic Damage. Read more in Discover Magazine

More Resources for Consumers

American Academy of Pediatrics:
Arsenic in Infant Rice Cereal

Healthy Babies Bright Futures:
Report on Arsenic in Infant Cereal

University of California Arsenic Health Effects Research Program:
Early exposure to arsenic has extraordinary impacts on young adults

Huffington Post:
Arsenic’s Lethal Legacy: How A Notorious Poison Permeates Our Food And Drink
10 Ways to Get Arsenic Out of Your (and Your Kids’) Diet