Arsenic, cadmium, and lead in herbs and spices

The US Consumers' Association Consumer Reports (CR) analyzed arsenic, cadmium, and lead levels in 126 herbs and spices from 38 brands. Almost a third had heavy metal levels that were dangerous to human health.    

CR evaluated two or three samples of each product from separate batches. When frequently ingested in conventional serving sizes, around one-third of the tested goods, or 40 in total, had high enough levels of arsenic, lead, and cadmium to represent a health risk to children. The majority expressed worry for adults as well. All the items they tested for two herbs (thyme and oregano) had heavy metals levels that CR specialists consider to be problematic and concerning. Moreover, according to CR's specialists, lead levels in 31 goods were so high that they surpassed the maximum amount someone should eat in a day. It is harmful to be exposed to even tiny levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other heavy metals on a regular basis, in part because the human body has a hard time breaking them down or excreting them. Long-term exposure to heavy metals may be harmful to one's health. It may have an impact on a child's brain development, and it may harm renal and immunological function in adults, as well as cause central nervous system disorders, reproductive issues, and hypertension.    

According to James E. Rogers, PhD, head of food safety and testing at CR, a single serving of any herb or spice evaluated is unlikely to cause damage. However, even in modest quantities used in cooking, certain goods contain enough heavy metals to cause worry when used on a daily basis. On the plus side, several goods fared well in the testing. All of the brands had heavy metal levels below the criteria for concern in seven of the 15 categories of herbs and spices evaluated.