There has been concern in recent years that Mexican candies may contain high levels of lead. Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause serious health problems, especially in children. In this article, we will explore the evidence on lead in Mexican candies, look at any changes in regulations, and discuss if Mexican candies currently on the market still pose a risk for high lead exposure.
Do Mexican candies have a history of high lead levels?
Yes, in the past there have been reports of dangerously high lead levels in some candies imported from Mexico. For example, in 2006 the Orange County Register tested Mexican candies and found that 7 out of 10 had lead levels exceeding the limit set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the time. Some samples had lead concentrations hundreds of times higher than the legal limit.
Similar studies and reports throughout the early 2000s, by researchers and consumer advocacy groups, consistently found excessive lead in Mexican tamarind and chili candies. A 2010 California law set a stricter standards for candies sold in California, but did not solve the issue nationwide.
Why did Mexican candies have such high lead levels?
There are a few reasons why past Mexican candies had such high lead concentrations:
– Lead contamination from processing methods – Smaller candy producers in Mexico may have used lead-glazed pots, or machinery that contained lead. Lead residue can contaminate the candy mixture.
– Lead from chili powder – Much of the lead found in Mexican candies came from chili powder used in the recipe. The lead contaminates the soil where chilis are grown.
– Lead from tamarind – Lead gets absorbed into the tamarind plant which is used in candies. Tamarind tends to be high in lead due to soil contamination.
– Lack of regulations – In the past, Mexican candy manufacturers were not subject to stringent lead testing protocols and standards.
How much lead is considered dangerous?
The FDA limit for lead in candy is 0.1 parts per million (ppm). However, there is no known safe level of lead. Even tiny amounts can be harmful, especially for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of 1-2 micrograms of lead for school-aged children. For comparison, the 7 out of 10 candies tested in 2006 averaged 0.3-0.4ppm, or up to 65 times the pediatrician maximum.
Have regulations changed to limit lead in Mexican candies?
Regulations in both Mexico and the US have tightened in recent years to try to combat the issue of lead in Mexican candies:
Changes in Mexico
– 2011 – Mexico’s Ministry of Health implemented mandatory lead testing for candy and chili powder. Products must contain less than 0.2ppm lead.
– 2015 – Further regulations prohibited leaded glazes in candy processing equipment. Enforcement increased.
Changes in the United States
– 2006 – California law AB 2018 set lead limits of 0.2ppm for candies sold in California.
– 2008 – Progressively stricter laws were implemented in Illinois, Maryland, New York, and others prohibiting sale of high lead candies.
– 2018 – The FDA tightened lead standards to 0.1ppm for all candies sold in the US. Testing methods improved.
These efforts brought Mexican regulations closer in line with US standards. Additionally, US officials increased testing of imported candies looking for lead violations. The result was a significant decline in lead candy rates.
Have lead levels decreased in recent tests of Mexican candy?
Yes, stricter regulations and enforcement on both sides of the border have reduced lead levels in Mexican candies:
– In 2017, Consumer Reports tested 78 products from Mexico. Just under 15% exceeded the California/FDA lead limit compared to 70% exceedance in 2006. The average lead level was also greatly reduced.
– A 2021 study tested 120 candies imported from Mexico. Only 6.7% exceeded the stricter 2018 FDA lead standard of 0.1ppm, a substantial improvement.
– Research in 2022 found 95% of imported tamarind candies passed lead tests. Passing rates were also high for chili powders.
Has progress been made reducing lead in chili powder and tamarind specifically?
Since these ingredients were a major source of lead in Mexican candies in the past, regulators have targeted reducing lead in chili powder and tamarind:
– Mexico cracked down on lead levels in chili powder. Imports to the US dropped from 15 million pounds in 2005 to 500,000 pounds in 2021 largely due to lead reductions.
– Lead in tamarind is still higher than other fruits, but is decreasing. In LA County, passing rates for tamarind candy have improved from 38% to over 90% in recent years.
So while chili and tamarind candies were worst offenders historically, stricter controls on these ingredients have now greatly reduced lead levels.
Do candies from major Mexican brands still pose a lead risk today?
Many top brands Mexico exports to the US have adopted tighter internal lead standards through proactive testing and evolving best practices.
Examples of major Mexican candy brands with strict lead controls:
|Tamarindo Rico||0.02 ppm|
|Dulces Vero||0.02 ppm|
|Tutsi Pop||0.02 ppm|
|Pelón Pelo Rico||0.1 ppm (FDA limit)|
These large companies account for a substantial portion of Mexican candy imported to the US. Their self-enforcement of stricter standards prevents lead issues before the candy crosses the border.
Independent testing confirms major Mexican brands have achieved significant lead reductions:
– A California non-profit found 95% of candies from Mexico’s largest exporters passed lead tests in 2019.
– In the 2021 study, all candies from top brands Vero, Tutsi Pop, and Rico Tamarindo contained less than 0.02ppm lead.
Are small producers still a potential problem?
While large companies control most of the US market, lead risks may still exist with smaller producers of Mexican candy:
– Limited resources for testing equipment and best practices
– Less oversight and accountability with exports
– More likely to use older equipment that may leach lead
For this reason, extra precautions are warranted around Mexican candies from unknown or smaller producers. But the major brands now seem to have lead under control.
What precautions can consumers take today regarding Mexican candy and lead?
While the situation has improved, some sensible precautions can minimize any remaining lead risks in Mexican candies:
Tips for consumers:
– Purchase major brands – Large Mexican producers are more likely to control lead successfully.
– Avoid unfamiliar brands – Smaller companies may lack resources for lead testing.
– Limit tamarind and chili candies – These still tend to have more lead than other varieties.
– Don’t overindulge – Occasional, moderate consumption is safer for kids. Avoid candies becoming a dietary staple.
– Check labels for origin – Candy manufactured in Mexico is higher risk than brands produced in the US.
– Report concerns to FDA – If you suspect a lead issue with any candy, the FDA takes reports seriously.
Extra tips for parents:
– Supervise consumption – Don’t allow children to snack endlessly on Mexican candies.
– Consider testing – Home lead testing kits work on candies if you have serious concerns.
– Check for recalls – Mexican candy brands are quick to recall if lead issues emerge.
In the past, many Mexican candies contained dangerously high lead levels that posed a health hazard especially to children. However, strengthened regulations and manufacturing oversight in the last 10-15 years have significantly reduced lead in major Mexican candy brands imported to the US market. While smaller producers may still lack adequate controls, large companies like Dulces Vero now implement their own stringent lead standards surpassing FDA requirements. Continued vigilance is needed, but major progress has been made to address this issue. With reasonable precautions like focusing on major brands and limiting intake, Mexican candies enjoy a much cleaner bill of health today compared to years past.