April 28, 2022 – The FDA issued guidance on Wednesday to limit the amount of lead in juices, outlining new recommended levels for the food and beverage industry.
The guidelines suggest limits of 10 parts per billion for lead in apple juice sold as “single-strength,” also known as ready-to-drink juice, as well as 20 parts per billion for all other single-strength juices, including juice blends that contain apple juice.
“Exposure of our most vulnerable populations, especially children, to elevated levels of toxic elements from foods is unacceptable,” Robert Califf, MD, the FDA commissioner, said in a statement.
“This action to limit lead in juice represents an important step forward in advancing FDA’s Closer to Zero action plan, which we are confident will have a lasting public health impact on current and future generations,” he said.
The Closer to Zero action plan was created in April 2021 to identify actions the FDA could take to reduce exposure to arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in foods, particularly those eaten by babies and young children.
The lead guidance, if finalized, would replace the current level of 50 parts per billion for single-strength apple juice. The FDA estimated that the 10 parts per billion level could result in a 46% reduction in exposure to lead from apple juice among children. The 20 parts per billion level for other fruit and vegetable juices could lead to a 19% reduction in lead exposure among children.
The FDA focused on a lower level in apple juice because it’s the most common juice that young children drink. The agency came up with the recommended level based on its interim reference level for lead, which is a measure of the contribution of lead in food to blood lead levels.
Lead exposure is toxic to humans and has been linked with health problems in children, particularly in the brain and nervous system, the FDA said. Lead can harm pregnant women, infants, young children, and those with chronic health conditions. It can build up in the body, so long-term exposure can affect health over time and lead to learning disabilities and behavior problems, as well as effects on immunity, the heart and blood vessels, the kidneys, and the reproductive system.
Lead naturally occurs in the environment and comes from many consumer and industrial products and processes, so it’s likely not possible to remove it entirely from the food supply chain, the FDA said. But as scientists learn more about lead exposure and its effects, food safety recommendations will likely follow.
“For example, action levels may be progressively lowered over time, as appropriate, to make continual improvements in reducing the levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury in foods eaten by babies and young children,” Susan Mayne, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in the statement.
The FDA also recommended that parents follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which outlines limits for juice consumption among children and suggests that children receive at least half of their daily fruit requirements from whole fruit rather than juice. The guidelines also say that children under 12 months should avoid juice entirely.
The FDA will accept comments on the guidance for lead levels in juice through June 28. Manufacturers can choose to begin using the recommendations before the guidance is final, though it’s not required.