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Arsenic in Food: FAQ

How arsenic gets into foods, and what it means for you.

Is organic juice/rice/other foods any better, in terms of arsenic risk?

Since arsenic persists in the soil for years, organically grown produce isn’t any safer than conventionally grown food, Duxbury says.

Is arsenic tested for in foods?

The FDA tests for arsenic in some foods through a program that looks for harmful substances in food. There is no standard for arsenic in foods, and the FDA says that when it finds inorganic arsenic -- the toxic kind -- it considers those findings on a case-by-case basis and takes regulatory action where necessary.

In September, the FDA said it was considering setting a standard for fruit juice.

What are the signs that someone may have gotten too much arsenic from their diet?

Chronic exposure to arsenic has very few symptoms, especially at the low levels seen in Western countries.

Long-term exposure to arsenic from water is known to cause skin discoloration that looks like freckles or small moles on the hands, feet, or trunk.

What should you do if you experience those symptoms?

If you’re concerned you may have been exposed to arsenic in food or water, a doctor can test for arsenic in your blood, urine, hair, or fingernails.

If you’re concerned you may be getting arsenic from well water, you can test the well and use water filters to remove the arsenic from your drinking water.

What is the difference between organic and inorganic arsenic?

In the environment, arsenic combines with oxygen, chlorine, and sulfur to form inorganic arsenic compounds.

In plants and animals, arsenic combines with hydrogen and oxygen to form organic arsenic compounds.

Inorganic kinds of arsenic are thought to be the most dangerous for human health, but very little is known about organic arsenic.

“This is a controversial topic with an ongoing debate amongst toxicologists,” Duxbury says.

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Reviewed on December 05, 2011

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