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Monday, June 17, 2024

These Veggie Puffs Were Found to Have High Levels of Lead

Vegetable puffs are a popular kids’ snack, but a disturbing new report from Consumer Reports found that there are elevated levels of lead in puffs made by top brands LesserEvil and Serenity Kids. 

“This really concerned us because some people use these a lot for their kids,” said James E. Rogers, PhD, director of product safety testing at Consumer Reports. 

For the report, Consumer Reports tested four cassava puff products made by LesserEvil and Serenity Kids, along with two sorghum puffs from Once Upon a Farm. The nonprofit detected arsenic and cadmium in all of the puffs and mercury in one, but none of the products had levels that were high enough to pose significant risks. 

However, testing on both LesserEvil puffs and one product from Serenity Kids found what Consumer Reports called “concerning” amounts of lead. LesserEvil’s Lil’ Puffs Intergalactic Voyager Veggie Blend puffs, for example, at 112% of California’s maximum allowable dose level (MADL), had more lead per serving than any of the 80 baby foods the nonprofit has tested since 2017. Its

The two sorghum puffs from Once Upon a Farm had very low levels of lead, which were some of the lowest lead levels of all the baby foods the nonprofit has ever tested.

“If you eat a gluten-free diet or are trying to avoid grains, cassava or sorghum is a good alternative — but not if it’s contaminated with lead,” Rogers said. 

A spokesperson for LesserEvil said in a statement to Food & Wine that “all LesserEvil products adhere to current regulatory requirements,” adding, “food safety is a top priority and we conduct extensive testing for all LesserEvil products that comply with California Prop 65 and federal standards.” A representative for Serenity Kids did not respond to Food & Wine’s request for comment by deadline.

Side effects of childhood lead poisoning

Lead is a naturally-occurring metal that can cause serious health issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). No safe blood lead level in children has been identified, and even low levels of lead in blood are linked with developmental delays, trouble learning, and behavioral issues, per the CDC. Lead poisoning can also lead to permanent and disabling health effects. 

Most children with elevated lead levels have no symptoms but, as lead levels rise, they may have non-specific symptoms like headaches, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, or constipation, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Children who develop clumsiness, agitation, or decreased activity and drowsiness could be showing signs of central nervous system involvement that can lead to vomiting and convulsions — that’s a medical emergency, per the AAP.

How does lead get into veggie puffs?

It’s not clear how lead got into these veggie puffs. “Cassava itself does not inherently contain lead,” said Darin Detwiler, LPD, an associate teaching professor of food policy at Northeastern University and author of Food Safety: Past, Present, and Predictions. “However, the risk of lead contamination in cassava can arise from environmental factors and processing methods.”

Cassava, which is a root vegetable, could be contaminated from the soil it’s grown in. “If cassava is grown in soil that contains high levels of lead, such as soil near industrial areas or places with lead-based pollution, the plant can absorb lead from the soil,” Detwiler said. Rogers also said it’s likely that the contamination started in the soil. “Because the cassava root is in the ground, it would have maximum exposure to lead,” he said. “We don’t think this was from manufacturing, because the lead levels were just so high.”

Experts recommend limiting servings in the future

Rogers said that parents don’t necessarily need to avoid these snacks altogether but recommends being aware of serving sizes and limiting them. “With the LesserEvil puffs, I would avoid them because the levels were just so high,” he said. But for the others, he recommends having 1.5 servings or less a day, if you have them at all. 

“Parents don’t need to panic,” Rogers said. “This is a snack. It’s not an essential part of the diet.” And, if you’re concerned about potential lead exposure, Detwiler suggested that you contact a pediatrician for testing and guidance. 

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