‘Tis the Season: Know What’s in your Candy

By Marcia Anderson

A few weeks ago, while visiting Montefiore Hospital, in the Bronx, for a conference on lead poisoning, we were shocked to learn of some very dangerous imported candies that have been recalled.  So close to the holidays, I felt it prudent to get more information on these products and pass along the warning.

The potential for children to be exposed to lead from imported candy has prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue warnings on the availability of lead-contaminated candy and to develop tighter guidelines for manufacturers, importers and distributors of imported candy. Check the wrappers: Candies with elevated lead levels appear to primarily from Mexico, Malaysia, China, India, Central and South America.

Why might lead be present in imported candy? Lead sometimes gets into the candy when processes such as drying, storing and grinding the ingredients are done improperly. Also, lead has been found in the wrappers of some imported candies. The ink of these plastic or paper wrappers may contain lead that leaches into the candy. These candies may not have an unusual taste; in fact, many forms of lead found in candies have a sweet taste.

Why does this seem to be a problem with imported candy, rather than candy that is produced in the United States?
Candies produced domestically are subject to inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state agencies to ensure that the ingredients used, and the manufacturing processes employed, produce a product that is safe and unadulterated. Some other countries may not be taking this much care.

What to do if you believe you or your child may have eaten candies that contain lead? See your health care provider. He or she can perform a blood test to see whether you or your child has been exposed to lead and, if so, recommend treatment options. Most adults and children with elevated blood lead levels do not have any symptoms. As blood lead levels increase so does the effects of lead on health.

What is the health risk from eating candy with unsafe levels of lead? Lead poisoning continues to be the most common and serious environmental health threat to children under the age of six. Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when he or she is still developing, making it difficult  to learn, pay attention and perform well in school. Lead poisoning can cause problems such as lower IQ, hyperactivity, impaired growth, and behavior problems. Lead exposure can also cause kidney damage, anemia, increased blood pressure, and more. Remember: The EPA has concluded that no amount of lead is safe for a child.

About the author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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