Lead Contamination in Hot Sauces

Lead Contamination in Hot Sauces
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Given the lead contamination found in chili-containing candies imported from Mexico, 25 hot sauces were tested for heavy metals.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Lead toxicity remains “a prevalent and…major [public health] concern,” especially for babies. And, “[o]ne of the [most] important sources of lead exposure for the fetus and infant is maternal blood.” “Lead in [pregnant and nursing women’s bloodstreams] readily crosses the placenta and [into breast milk].” Where does her lead come from? Most may originate from her own skeleton, where lead from past exposures builds up. Past exposures to what? Mostly through “food…, [then] dust…, water…, and air.”

One of the more atypical sources of childhood lead poisoning in the United States are “lead-tainted candies,” including, ironically, brands with names like “Toxic Waste” (though the FDA recall “only [evidently] applie[d] to the Nuclear Sludge [variety,] not [the] other ‘Toxic Waste’…candies”). Many of the tainted candies were imported from Mexico, particularly candies “containing chili [peppers] and salt as major ingredients.” Maybe the lead was from mined salt, or grinding stones, or lead-containing pesticides; they’re not sure.

But, wait a second. There’s something else in grocery stores containing imported chilis and salt as major ingredients: hot sauce.

“In the last decade, the…FDA…has issued several warnings and recalls for food products that exceed the standards for lead. Products containing chili peppers and salt were often suspected as sources of lead contamination such as [the candies]. However, products such as hot sauces that contain similar ingredients have not been the focus of evaluations”—until now.

They tested 25 different hot sauces, and about 9 out of 10 had detectable lead. But only four brands exceeded the FDA’s action level of 0.1 parts per million. But, that’s the candy standard; so, technically none of the hot sauces can be recalled off U.S. shelves. “Although…candy and hot sauce contain common ingredients,” there’s simply no hot sauce standard.

The most contaminated hot sauces had about a microgram of lead per teaspoon, which may be more than young kids should be getting in their daily diet. But how many six-year-olds are consuming hot sauce by the spoonful? “Although hot sauce would not intuitively be counted amongst food products highly consumed by children, ethnic and cultural practices must be considered. Chili peppers and salt are commonly used in [a variety of ways in everyday cuisine.]” And so, they want to see the same stringent candy standard applied to hot sauce. Or, at least have some limit. 

“Without enforceable standards for hot sauces,” what motivation do manufacturers have to even look into the problem? For example, it may be the soil. The dirt is just so contaminated by lead that just washing off any residue on peppers after picking may cut lead levels four-fold in the final product. But why bother taking the extra step, if no one’s checking?

Any other imports we should be concerned about? I’ve talked about the heavy metal contamination of herbal supplements—but not this kind of herbal supplement. “Several hundred people suffered lead poisoning presumably resulting from the desire of drug dealers to maximize profits.” Lead is heavy, about 50 times heavier than oregano, so “is particularly useful for driving up profits.” And, it wasn’t subtle; you could see the little lead particles. Why an epidemic of lead poisoning among young pierced students? Because dealers could make an extra $1,500 per kilo.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Ben Grey via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Tyler McReynolds, Teetotalin LLC

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Lead toxicity remains “a prevalent and…major [public health] concern,” especially for babies. And, “[o]ne of the [most] important sources of lead exposure for the fetus and infant is maternal blood.” “Lead in [pregnant and nursing women’s bloodstreams] readily crosses the placenta and [into breast milk].” Where does her lead come from? Most may originate from her own skeleton, where lead from past exposures builds up. Past exposures to what? Mostly through “food…, [then] dust…, water…, and air.”

One of the more atypical sources of childhood lead poisoning in the United States are “lead-tainted candies,” including, ironically, brands with names like “Toxic Waste” (though the FDA recall “only [evidently] applie[d] to the Nuclear Sludge [variety,] not [the] other ‘Toxic Waste’…candies”). Many of the tainted candies were imported from Mexico, particularly candies “containing chili [peppers] and salt as major ingredients.” Maybe the lead was from mined salt, or grinding stones, or lead-containing pesticides; they’re not sure.

But, wait a second. There’s something else in grocery stores containing imported chilis and salt as major ingredients: hot sauce.

“In the last decade, the…FDA…has issued several warnings and recalls for food products that exceed the standards for lead. Products containing chili peppers and salt were often suspected as sources of lead contamination such as [the candies]. However, products such as hot sauces that contain similar ingredients have not been the focus of evaluations”—until now.

They tested 25 different hot sauces, and about 9 out of 10 had detectable lead. But only four brands exceeded the FDA’s action level of 0.1 parts per million. But, that’s the candy standard; so, technically none of the hot sauces can be recalled off U.S. shelves. “Although…candy and hot sauce contain common ingredients,” there’s simply no hot sauce standard.

The most contaminated hot sauces had about a microgram of lead per teaspoon, which may be more than young kids should be getting in their daily diet. But how many six-year-olds are consuming hot sauce by the spoonful? “Although hot sauce would not intuitively be counted amongst food products highly consumed by children, ethnic and cultural practices must be considered. Chili peppers and salt are commonly used in [a variety of ways in everyday cuisine.]” And so, they want to see the same stringent candy standard applied to hot sauce. Or, at least have some limit. 

“Without enforceable standards for hot sauces,” what motivation do manufacturers have to even look into the problem? For example, it may be the soil. The dirt is just so contaminated by lead that just washing off any residue on peppers after picking may cut lead levels four-fold in the final product. But why bother taking the extra step, if no one’s checking?

Any other imports we should be concerned about? I’ve talked about the heavy metal contamination of herbal supplements—but not this kind of herbal supplement. “Several hundred people suffered lead poisoning presumably resulting from the desire of drug dealers to maximize profits.” Lead is heavy, about 50 times heavier than oregano, so “is particularly useful for driving up profits.” And, it wasn’t subtle; you could see the little lead particles. Why an epidemic of lead poisoning among young pierced students? Because dealers could make an extra $1,500 per kilo.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Ben Grey via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Tyler McReynolds, Teetotalin LLC

63 responses to “Lead Contamination in Hot Sauces

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  1. Interesting.

    How about Diatomaceous Earth, food-grade, for human consumption? Is it safe to consume?
    I’ve read that it can contain excessive lead, but more concerned that there might be other, even
    more serious issues with its consumption. But health-food stores seem to promote this product,
    and many touts its benefits. Any data, thoughts, etc. on Diatomaceous Earth, Doctor?




    7
  2. NO! Not hot sauce! Say it’s not so. I loves me some heat in my food, and when I’m not slicing or mincing up Jalapeño peppers to add to my food, I’m shaking in some hot sauce.

    I’m partial to Huy Fong Foods Sriracha and Tapatio hot sauces, both of which are produced in the US and were not on the list of tested hots sauces. There isn’t a California Proposition 65 warning on the bottles which is good, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m out of the woods lead-wise with these products because they could very well be sourcing their chili’s from Mexico.. Bummer.




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      1. Susan, I love that video, too! That’s the one where hesays he sometimes goes around with baked sweet potatoes in pockets. I love it!




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    1. By the way, I remember a video on nutritionfacts.org which mentioned that sodium benzoate + ascorbic acid and/or citric acid -> benzene. Huy Fong uses sodium bisulfite instead (safer) and Cholula uses neither. I think that benzene in hot sauce poses an additional threat.

      Another thing to watch for is the use of dyes in some Mexican hot sauces. It’s quite easy to spot which sauces are dyed.

      El Pato was on the list as one containing a lot of lead. They’re an old-time Southern California brand and when the article first hit the news, they stopped importing their sauce. They’re importing again and I bet they test for lead now.




      5
    2. Why zooming on hot sauce alone? If there is lead contamination, do other sauces have it too? Is it a “Mexican” sauce problem or is it true for any sauce made elsewhere?

      For hot sauce in particular, I think that the lead contamination may be overblown. Since it is “hot”, you cannot use too much, perhaps one tablespoon at the most.

      I like Huy Fong Sriracha too when I don’t have time to make my own. Since I grow a lot of hot peppers and I cannot eat them all at the same time, I usually conserved them in apple cider vinegar. But lately, I have an Instant Pot pressure cooker and I make my own hot sauce using the following recipe. Since my homemade hot sauce still does not taste as good as the Huy Fong hot sauce due to perhaps some secret formula, I mix half of Huy Fong Sriracha and half of my homemade hot sauce. The result is very good hot sauce and I can eat all of my home grown hot peppers in a year.

      https://www.hippressurecooking.com/pressure-cooker-hot-sauce/




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      1. “For hot sauce in particular, I think that the lead contamination may be overblown. Since it is “hot”, you cannot use too much, perhaps one tablespoon at the most.”
        Maybe with habanero sauce or some of the really hot varieties but it was not uncommon for me to use multiple ounces of hot sauce in one meal(especially valentina). If you see those big bottles of valentina sauce, I used to sometimes used like a third of the bottle at a time(literally drenched it in hot sauce) It is too bad they often have sodium benzoate(which is bad when it mixes with acidic foods and turns into benzene if I remember correctly) and that much lead and often too much salt in large amounts(and I eat large amounts with some of the lower salt varieties).




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    3. Actually Huy Fong sources their chili pepper from California because they said that they have to harvest the pepper from nearby farms and process immediately to preserve the flavor. This is why they locate their plant in LA despite getting a lot of oppositions from nearby residents who said that the air smells chili peppers (which I think it is exaggerated for lawsuit money).




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      1. It’s worse than that… Irwindale intentionally courted Huy Fong to consider their city when Huy Fong announced plans to expand their operations beyond their Rosemede, CA plant and offices. Originally they were pretty happy about having Huy Fong move in there as evidenced by this Oct 2010 quote from a NBC 4 – Los Angeles news report:

        “In addition to creating an estimated 190 jobs, Irwindale City Manager Sol Benudiz said the company’s move will
        produce other positive impacts for the city.

        “The new Huy Fong Foods corporate office will become Irwindale’s largest building when completed.”

        Guess they didn’t bother to visit Rosemede before they invited Huy Fong and they now have buyer’s remorse or are trying to win at Judicial Lotto.

        I visited the plant during picking-packing season two years ago… a picante ambrosia filled the air… ‘course, I love chili so much that I literally buy Huy Fong’s Sambal Oelek in the handy 8.50 lb bottle two or three times a year. My wife the bell pepper & chili pepper hater just shakes her head in disbelief. Oh, well, just more for me!




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        1. Thanks. I didn’t know about the move. I only read about the initial complaint in LA Times.

          I like Huy Fong Sriracha because it is not burning hot like other chili pepper although it produces the tingling sensation.

          Speaking about capsaicin in chili pepper, it is anti cancer.

          http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/01/16/can-capsaicin-chili-peppers-beat-cancer.aspx

          P.S. Mercola probably talks about plant foods more than Greger since he has about 5 articles per day and most of the time, all 5 are about plant foods.




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    4. Yep, I’m about ready to give up and start eating all my meals at Micky D’s. No rice, no potatoes, and now this. And if you check ewg.org you will find that hot peppers are on the dirty dozen list for pesticides. So it’s not only lead. If I had to guess, I would say that Tabasco is probably pretty clean. They grow their own strain of peppers on an island off the coast of Louisiana. It’s a family owned operation and they are environmentalists.




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      1. Have any more info on Tabasco? It’s still family owned? I’ve been a big fan of Mexican hot sauces but recently have been looking to make a switch to something more local (can’t imagine the environmental impact of shipping glass bottles all the way from Mexico) and family owned any way. I should have known there was a catch when I could get basically a liter bottle of the stuff for $1.55. It comes contaminated with lead! Tabasco and Sriracha seem like the leading contenders for now.




        1
        1. Tabasco has such a distinct flavor that I never buy it and only use it as last resort. I suffered too long as a kid when that was “THE ONLY” hot sauce to be found in this part of the country. SO happy that it is not our only option anymore. If you like it–fantastic, appears to be a “likeable” company and unique process/peppers. It’s just not my cuppa sauce.




          1
      2. Actually Tabasco only grows peppers for seeds in Louisiana. The seeds are sent to Mexico and Central America for pepper production.
        I worked for a company that was a supplier to them for many years.




        0
    5. I use Gringo Bandito, it only has 25mg of sodium per teaspoon. Contrast that to Tapatio which has over 100mg per teaspoon. Must be something wrong with the sauce if you have to add that much sodium. Gringo is even better.




      0
    1. Have you tried Korean Gochujang?? It’s like a spicy miso paste.. I thin it out with some sesame oil,a bit of rice vinegar and water… It’s GREAT on popcorn… Don’t know about the lead though..
      mitch




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  3. I buy organic dried chile peppers, Chipotles, Pasilla, Guajillo, as well as red pepper flakes, cayenne, etc, i use them in beans and soups, i hardly make anything without chile peppers in it. I suppose all of these are likely to be contaminated as well?




    2
  4. We have lead contamination everywhere, in our foods, tap water. The solution is to eat cilantro and brussel sprout for instance which are supposed to decontaminate lead and other metals. See, I am more vegan than a lot of so called vegans.




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    1. As this community has already noted, Jerry Lewis, you are just simply better than everyone at everything all the time. We’re also sure that you are always right about everything. Wadda guy . . . .




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    2. I’m one of those for whom cilantro is a no-no. I’ve apparently got the gene that makes it taste like soap or garbage (depends on whether it’s organic or not). But Brussel Sprouts are one of my favorites, and as for sriracha, Vermont has its own organic brand, peppers grown locally and unlikely to have a lead problem. No selenium either but that’s an on-going problem in Vermont.




      1
        1. There is no issue with brussel sprout that I know of unless you are talking about the arsenic that brussel sprout and kale absorb along with rice but first of all the arsenic amount is miniscule plus the benefits outweigh the risks.

          I always buy organic plus I wash my vegetables and fruits thoroughly and soak them in water no matter how “clean” it looks. Unless it comes from my own backyard of course.




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  5. So, how many other condiments or “food accessories” that we ingest with some regularity are likely to be contaminated by heavy metals or other products of industrialized “farming” that are not tested or have NO safety standards at all? What is amiss here?

    Do we all need to have labs at our disposal for testing of all industrial food products? Sheesh. Seems that’d be one of those centralized things that we could depend upon.

    Obviously not.




    4
    1. With the orange clown around – this kind of thing won’t likely happen – most likely the opposite. Don’t you just love the fools that voted for it?

      If congress was not corporate-owned…we’d have long had reliable testing for toxics.

      Since “they” know how to manipulate the “average fool” – “democracy” is AOK with the people really running the show.




      2
  6. “Why an epidemic of lead poisoning among young “pierced” students? Because dealers could make an extra $1,500 per kilo.”

    What connection does “pierced” have to do with lead in the drugs?




    2
    1. The full quote in the article says “The patients were young, were unemployed or were students, had a history of smoking, and had body piercings.” He is just describing the typical patient who was exposed to lead through marijuana.




      0
  7. You asked about the “evidence” on soy milk. I’m not sure if you were referring just to the evidence on lead (?). If so this video might be helpful to review:
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-to-lower-lead-levels-with-diet-breakfast-whole-grains-milk-tofu/
    If you were referring to simply the evidence on benefits of soy milk, this review discussing the benefits of soy in general might be helpful: https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/soy/

    It’s true Dr. Greger has focused on the best beverages are water and green tea. However, if you are going to add milk to your cereal or your coffee, or make a smoothie, soy milk works well. It is a good source of protein (as compared to almond milk), vitamin A, B12, vitamin D, and potassium.It is fortified so can provide added calcium, Vit D and other nutrients,
    Hope this puts things into perspective.




    5
    1. I don’t use fortified soy milk, and I’m about to start making my own to cut down on costs. Should I be throwing in a B12 pill or a DHA supplement to fortify it? Or just take my B12 like a good girl and use flax seeds for the other?




      0
      1. Don’t eat anything fortified as a general rule because you don’t know if they use synthetic vitamin or mineral or not. I pick my own vitamins and minerals.




        1
      2. Hey Barbie, thanks for writing! Make sure that when you look at the costs, you consider the fact that manufactured fortified soy milk has a lot of nutrients you’d have to add to your home-made product to make it equivalent: calcium, B-vitamins, vitamin A & D…you may find that the cost of adding all of these back, and the time it takes, is not worth it. If you choose to do so, then adding a B-12 supplement is a great idea, and hopefully the DHA supplement won’t give it a funny taste!




        0
  8. While we’re on the subject of spicy foods:

    Lv et al, 2015. Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study. Bmj, 351, p.h3942.

    Spicy food consumption showed highly consistent inverse associations with total mortality among both men and women after adjustment for other known or potential risk factors. In the whole cohort, compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week, the adjusted hazard ratios for death were 0.90 (95% CI 0.84-0.96), 0.86 (0.80-0.92), and 0.86 (0.82-0.90) for those who ate spicy food 1 or 2, 3 to 5, and 6 or 7 days a week, respectively. Compared with those who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods 6 or 7 days a week showed a 14% relative risk reduction in total mortality. Inverse associations were also observed for deaths due to cancer, ischemic heart diseases, and respiratory diseases.

    Chopan and Littenberg, 2017. The association of hot red chili pepper consumption and mortality: a large population-based cohort study. PloS one, 12(1), p.e0169876.

    Total mortality for participants who consumed hot red chili peppers was 21.6% compared to 33.6% for those who did not (absolute risk reduction of 12%; relative risk of 0.64). Adjusted for demographic, lifestyle, and clinical characteristics, the hazard ratio was 0.87 (P = 0.01; 95% CI 0.77-0.97). Consumption of hot red chili peppers was associated with a 13% reduction in the instantaneous hazard of death. Similar, but statistically nonsignificant trends were seen for deaths from vascular disease.

    A 13% to 14% risk reduction is something to sneeze at.




    9
    1. I didn’t pull the original papers but there are a lot of other ways to eat spicy peppers besides highly processed hot sauce. And there are a lot of other places to source peppers besides Mexico. So now that we know the risk of Mexican hot sauces why not eliminate as much lead exposure as possible? However, like all of the content on Dr. Greger’s site, he gives you the information, and you can do with it as you will.




      8
    2. Unfortunately I’m allergic to all peppers, spicy and garden variety red, yellow and green. I’d love to know some alternatives for some of the good things I’m missing from them.




      0
    3. Bite into one of the really hot peppers and your risk of instant death is pretty high. I don’t really feel compatico with actual peppers…hot sauces are another thing.

      My recent binge of cold soft corn tacos is evidence of that – a salad in a taco with hot sauce.




      0
  9. I’m not that concerned about lead in hot sauce because you use so little at one time. What about all the lead in purple grape juice our children are drinking cups at a time??




    1
    1. Hi Kelly, unfortunately grape is among the dirty dozen foods that you should eat organic because they are prone to be sprayed with pesticides and when you buy a commercial juice then you cannot know what type of grapes did they used.

      http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/healthy/news/g168/dirty-dozen-foods/?slide=1

      In general, I avoid drinking fruit juice but eat the fruit itself. Besides the act of chewing which releases the saliva and enzymes, eating the whole fruit will have the benefit of slowing the release of sugar into the bloodstream. And so if you drink fruit juice even with the pulp and therefore fiber, the sugar will go into your bloodstream faster.

      But for kids who don’t develop the insulin resistance yet then if your kids are hard at eating whole fruits then you may consider juicing yourself but from organic fruits. But wash the fruits thoroughly with water before juicing and juice every day so that it is fresh and does not oxidize.




      0
    2. Jerry has some good points, but clinical studies have shown that those that drink fruit juice experience higher rates of diabetes. Don’t juice. The fiber is too important to throw away.

      Dr. Ben




      0
  10. I was so sad to give up my 2 favorite hot sauces from El Yucateco :( It’s hard to find hot sauces that are spicy enough and has great balance in flavor. So after trying a bunch of organic hot sauces made in the US, I’m happy to report I found 2 habanero sauces I really enjoy from Arizona Pepper’s Organic Harvest Foods (found them at Whole Foods).

    https://express.google.com/product/16369376321360654645_5675523137914409430_9359450

    https://express.google.com/product/10263664048322863309_11707870117427599530_9359450

    For those who say lead in hot sauce isn’t a huge concern because you don’t use much of it… You haven’t seen my family eat. A meal isn’t complete without hot sauce. We eat a lot of it and quite spicy too. I even grow my own peppers but sometimes you just want to reach for a quick bottle of something with a kick. So I very much appreciate Dr. Greger bringing this issue to light. Thank you for this video.




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