As part of their Closer to Zero program removing lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium from children’s diets, the FDA released new guidelines Tuesday further limiting lead concentration in processed baby food, estimated to reduce some kids’ dietary lead exposure by between 24% and 27%—though it’s unclear exactly what a safe level of lead consumption actually is for children.
FDA analysis of routine baby food sampling between 2008 and 2021 found an average lead concentration of less than 10 parts per billion (ppb), with the exception of root vegetables, which had an average of less than 20 ppb.
The FDA now advises manufacturers to dispose of any packaged baby food item containing lead concentrations of more than 20 parts per billion (ppb) for dry cereals and root vegetables like carrots and 10 parts ppb for mixtures, yogurts, puddings, meats and all other fruits and veggies.
There is no official safe blood level of lead for kids, but the FDA recommends children six and under consume no more than 2.2 micrograms of lead per day (if they consume 20 micrograms of lead, they should see a doctor).
The new recommendations are not legally enforceable, but if manufacturers remove food products that are above the recommended levels of lead, dietary lead exposure for babies who consume more food—among the 10% biggest eaters—is expected to drop up to 27%.
Though some lead absorption is unavoidable, and the CDC does not identify dietary exposure as a common cause of lead poisoning, the FDA’s Closer to Zero initiative aims to reduce lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium levels in children’s food as far as possible.
Lead Poisoning: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention
Children can be more susceptible to lead poisoning because they tend to eat what they should not – even if it’s just from putting a dusty hand in their mouth. Parents should protect their kids from exposure to pre-1978 construction, lead paint and pottery glaze and some traditional candies and medicines. The CDC says lead poisoning is usually asymptomatic until levels are already high. Symptoms in children could include trouble paying attention, behavior problems, underperformance in school and slowed development. Parents can test for lead levels at most doctors’ offices.
In the 1970’s, the FDA started lowering lead consumption by phasing out cans with lead solder. That, in conjunction with lowered crop contamination from the elimination of leaded gasoline, caused a 98% drop in the dietary lead exposure of kids age – from 43 micrograms a day in 1980 to 1 mcg. a day in 2014.
New CDC Lead Guidelines (FDA)
Closer to Zero Program (FDA)