San Francisco Department of the Environment

Should I beware of arsenic in my baby’s food?

infant girl

What you need to know 

Rice snacks and cereals are a popular choice for introducing little ones to solid foods because they are hypoallergenic, have a neutral flavor, and are easy to digest. A 2019 study by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, found that 95% of the 170 rice food snacks marketed for babies contained heavy metals, including arsenic. If ingested at high levels, arsenic can cause developmental delays in infants. In response to public concern, the FDA set stricter standards in 2020 for regulating arsenic levels in manufactured food products to limit consumer exposure.  

How do heavy metals get into the food supply? 

There are two different forms of arsenic - organic (from the earth's crust) and inorganic (from pesticides used on crops). Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen, while organic arsenic is less harmful. Both forms of arsenic enter water and soil through agricultural irrigation. Rice, like many fruits and vegetables, then readily takes up arsenic during the growth process. Rice tends to absorb more arsenic from ground-water than other crops. Arsenic can also be found in fruit juices and well-water. 

Alternatives to infant rice cereal and snacks 

There are safer alternatives to rice food cereals and snacks like infant cereals and snacks made with quinoa, oats, barley, whole wheat, and multi-grains. The FDA recommends parents limit when feeding babies rice cereals. Although rice cereals and snacks are a popular choice for parents to transition infants to solid food, it does not have to be your baby's first food. Feeding your baby a variety of healthy, nutrient-rich food can decrease their exposure to toxic heavy metals and contaminants found in some foods. Limiting juice consumption and providing whole fruit can further reduce infants’ arsenic intake. 

Check in with your child’s pediatrician 

Be sure to check in with your child’s pediatrician concerning their diet.   


Additional Resources 

 

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