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 it is hypoallergic, has a neutral flavor, and is easy to digest. In a 2019 study by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, it was found that 95% of the 170 rice food snacks marketed for babies contained heavy metals, including arsenic. If ingested at high levels, arsenic can lead to developmental delays in infants. In response to public concern, the FDA set higher 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 pesticide used on crops). Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen. Both forms of arsenic enter water and soil through agricultural irrigation. Rice, like many fruits and vegetables, 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. The alternatives are infant cereals and snacks  made with quinoa, oats, barley, whole wheat, and multi-grains. The FDA recommends parents limit the use of rice cereals when feeding babies. Feeding your baby with a variety of healthy nutrient rich food can decrease their exposure to other toxic heavy metals and contaminants that are found in some foods. 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. Limiting juice 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 your child’s diet.   

Additional Resources 


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