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2011-2012 Lead in Candy, Chocolate and Cocoa Powder


The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to test various foods for specific hazards.

The diet as a source of lead exposure is documented on the Health Canada web page which states that: "Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in rock and soil, and also has many industrial applications. Due to both its natural occurrence and long history of global use, lead is present in air, water and soil, as well as in food, drinking water and household dust. Levels of lead in the environment have declined significantly over the past few decades due to the discontinued use of lead in paint, gasoline and the solder used in food cans. Since the phase-out of leaded gasoline and the subsequent reduction of airborne lead, food and drinking water are currently the primary sources of lead exposure to adults within the general population".

Lead is not permitted to be added to foods sold in Canada; however, due to its widespread presence in the environment, it is detected in all foods, generally at very low levels. Lead can enter the food chain through various pathways, such as uptake from soil into plants and from man-made uses (e.g. processing equipment).

Lead levels in meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, fruits and vegetables (processed and fresh) are monitored annually under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program (NCRMP). The NCRMP does not test finished and/or manufactured foods such as candy, chocolate and cocoa powder, for lead. Therefore, the main objective of the current survey was to generate baseline surveillance data on the level of lead in candy, chocolate and cocoa powders available on the Canadian retail market.

The 2011-2012 FSAP Lead survey targeted domestic and imported candy, chocolate and cocoa powders. A total of 297 samples were collected from grocery and specialty stores in 11 Canadian cities between April 2011 and March 2012. The samples collected included 24 cocoa powder (intended for baking, not milk/hot chocolate mixes), 124 chocolate (e.g. baking chocolate, chocolate bars, chocolate chips), and 149 candy (e.g. marshmallows, gummy and hard candies, lollipops) samples.

Of the 297 samples analyzed for lead, 118 (40%) did not contain any detectable level of lead. The remaining 179 samples had detectable, low lead levels ranging from 0.0032 to 0.2359 parts per million (ppm). While the method of analysis cannot identify the sources of the lead found in these samples, the sources were likely from natural and manmade.

All foods sold in Canada must comply with Section 4 of the Canadian Food and Drugs Act. In the case of lead, the Government of Canada recognizes that there can be multiple sources that account for the presence of lead in food. Whether from natural or man-made sources, all food industries are expected to minimize the presence of lead by any and all processes available to them. This is consistent with the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principle. Given the wide variety of processes, procedures and sources of raw materials, the means of implementing the ALARA principle will be company-specific.

All the data generated were shared with Health Canada for use in performing human health risk assessments. The levels of lead found in the candy, chocolate and cocoa powder products tested in this survey were unlikely to pose an unacceptable health concern. Follow up actions could include additional sampling, additional inspections or ultimately the recall of the product from the Canadian market place. No product recalls were warranted given the lack of a health concern.

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