Heavy metals are among the substances that can yield harmful effects. When consumed, they accumulate over time, reaching toxic levels that cause diseases.
Heavy metal testing is a vital aspect of the food manufacturing process. By testing and eliminating heavy metals, manufacturers can guarantee food safety to consumers. In addition, metal testing enlightens consumers about harmful metals in food products.
Read on to understand heavy metal testing and why it is crucial for consumers.
A Primer on Heavy Metals
Heavy metals are the high density and toxic elements that form part of the periodic table of elements. Although the body can naturally eliminate heavy metals from the body, a high concentration level can yield harmful effects.
Common heavy metals in food products include:
Source of Heavy Metals
Heavy metals occur naturally in the environment through bioactivity and exist in water, air, and the ground. Eventually, heavy metals enter people’s food products through natural processes.
In California, for example, any consumable or cosmetic product containing raw materials extracted from the ground has a warning label against the possible existence of heavy metals. Even if the product contains no heavy metals, consumers may still label the heavy metal warning on the packaging.
Why the Subject of Heavy Metals Is of Concern
In the past, some consumables tested positive for the presence of heavy metals, notably lead, Mercury, and Arsenic. Unfortunately, many consumers are unaware that such heavy metals exist in food products. An example is the breakfast cereal that contains traces of iron supplements vital for the body.
Like other natural elements, the level of heavy metals in food items depends on the following:
- Geographical location
- The uptake rate of metal elements from the environment
- Industrial and agricultural processes such as using pesticides
Common Foods that Contain Heavy Metals
Heavy metals are present in daily diets at a small margin. However, certain foods contain a high level of metals that may be harmful to the body if uncontrolled.
Some foods that contain metals include:
Fish and other seafood contain a substantial amount of Mercury. Farmed seafood, for instance, is rich in Mercury and other toxins. An alternative for fish lovers could be wild-caught fish and seafood.
Unlike white rice, brown rice contains up to 80% Arsenic absorbed from the ground. Brown rice absorbs more Arsenic from the soils and water than the white variant. Not only that, the brownish shade of the outer layer originates from arsenic elements.
Green leafy vegetables contain many heavy minerals, among them Cadmium. The best option for green vegetables is consuming organic vegetables that absorb less Cadmium from the soil.
Some plumbing infrastructure, such as pipes, contains a high lead concentration. Over time, lead leaches into the water, which enters households. Unfiltered water contains lead components which may be harmful to the body. An easy way to prevent lead infiltration is to use filtered water.
The Role of FDA in Monitoring Heavy Metals in Food Products
The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) monitors the levels of heavy metals in all food products. The agency can determine if any food product contains toxic elements and heavy metals through targeted sampling. Targeted sampling often results from reports of high metal levels in particular food products, additives, and food groups.
In addition, the FDA ensures food safety by testing and setting standards for metal components in cosmetics and animal feeds. If the metal levels are unsafe, the agency can enforce legal measures based on the case.
The FDA conducts random tests on various food products to check the presence of heavy metals in foods.
Below are FDA’s Testing Mechanisms:
Total Diet Study (TDS)
The Total Diet Study began in 1961 to check on radioactive elements in food products. The program gradually expanded to cover nutrient levels, toxic components, and other chemicals present in food items that people consume.
The TDS has a sampling plan spanning all the states in America, although the focus is on densely populated areas. Additionally, it has sample collections for foods consumed locally and foods with seasonal variations, such as dairy products.
Toxic Elements in Foodstuff and Foodware
The agency conducts routine monitoring of contaminants present in food items and food ware. Mainly, radioactive elements form the bulk of monitoring resulting from agricultural practices, nuclear weapons, industrial wastes, and plastic items containing toxins.
Besides food items, the program monitors the presence of heavy metals in food ware, such as silver plates and ceramic ware.
Benefits of Heavy Metal Testing
Like other food testing methods, heavy metal testing plays a pivotal role in determining food quality for consumers.
Below are the benefits of heavy metal testing for consumers:
Metal testing procedures are factual and precise. Thus, they can be a basis for preventing illnesses related to high levels of metal accumulation. Typically, metal testing companies collect food samples to analyze the level of metal elements. If the test discovers a high level of metal concentration, scientists can recommend a review of the product’s ingredients.
Informs Consumers About Food Safety
Regulating agencies like the Federal Drugs Administration publishes an updated list of safe products and their metal composition. As a result, consumers know what food items can have health effects due to their high metal content.
Ensures a Sustainable Future
Scientific metal testing procedures give critical answers to sustainability questions of food safety. Having safe products means loss reduction to manufacturers who can upscale their productivity levels to meet consumers’ demands.
Having metal-free food items means a reduction in related illnesses. Consumers can, therefore, proceed with routine tasks by keeping food-borne illnesses at bay. In addition, being in sound health enables consumers to focus on other meaningful activities that boost economic production.
Improves a Company’s Reputation
Companies can use recommendations from heavy metal testing to improve their products and ensure minimal metal composition. Having safe products will boost consumers’ confidence in the company’s product and strengthen its reputation.