Alarming levels of heavy metals in chocolate products, new report says

A recent study conducted by Consumer Reports (CR, an American nonprofit consumer organization) has raised concerns about the presence of heavy metals in chocolate products. The study found that one-third of the tested chocolate products had high levels of lead and cadmium, two heavy metals that have been linked to severe health problems.    

Last year, CR conducted tests on dark chocolate bars, which revealed high levels of lead and cadmium. Building on these findings, the organization extended its research to include other chocolate products.    

The study encompassed 48 different products across seven categories, including cocoa powder, chocolate chips, milk chocolate bars, brownie and cake mixes, and hot chocolate mixes.    

Lead and cadmium were found to be concentrated in the cocoa, the primary ingredient that gives chocolate its distinct taste. While dark chocolate tended to have higher levels of heavy metals due to its higher cacao content, other chocolate products also contained detectable amounts of lead and cadmium.    

CR's director and acting head of product safety testing, James E. Rogers, Ph.D., emphasized that all products tested had detectable amounts of these heavy metals.    

Out of the 48 tested products, 16 were found to have amounts of lead and cadmium above CR's levels of concern.  
It is important to note that exposure to heavy metals can have serious health implications, particularly for children and pregnant women. These metals can harm the brain and nervous system, leading to developmental delays, learning and behavior problems, and more. Adults can also experience negative effects, such as immune system suppression, reproductive issues, kidney damage, and hypertension.    

CR's findings indicate that lead and cadmium are the most problematic heavy metals in chocolate. While cadmium is absorbed by the cocoa plant from the soil, lead can be deposited on the cocoa beans during the drying process. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder, which have higher concentrations of cocoa solids, tend to have higher levels of heavy metals.    

To assess the risk posed by lead and cadmium, CR compared the heavy metal content in each product to California's standard maximum allowable dose levels (MADL, which is 0.5 micrograms per day for lead and 4.1 mcg per day for cadmium). The study found that none of the products exceeded the limits for arsenic or mercury exposure. However, a significant number of products had lead and cadmium levels above California's MADL. It is worth noting that the majority of chocolate products sold in California are subject to less stringent standards due to an ongoing lawsuit, urging companies to reduce the levels of heavy metals in their products.    

In response to the findings, CR has launched a petition calling on Hershey's, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers globally, to intensify its efforts in reducing toxic heavy metals in its chocolate products. Hershey's cocoa powder and milk chocolate were found to have concerning levels of lead, with some of its dark chocolate bars also exhibiting high levels of lead and cadmium in previous tests.    

CR's results highlight the need for manufacturers to prioritize the reduction of heavy metals in their chocolate products. Proactive measures, such as sourcing cocoa from areas with low metal levels and implementing improved harvesting and processing practices, can help minimize contamination. The organization urges companies to take responsibility for ensuring the safety of their food.      



Consumer Reports