baby-foodA child’s first few years are very important for their development. Getting proper nutrition is essential for the physical and mental growth of a child.  Years ago, parents would make baby food from scratch to ensure that their infants would have homemade, wholesome and a freshly prepared meal which would be healthy and safe. Years ago, parents didn’t have the convenience of buying store bought baby food, like we do today.  We have the luxury of walking to the grocery store and choosing from a wide variety of baby foods like rice, carrots, peas, mixed vegetables, etc. Sure, they might not be homemade or freshly prepared, but we do assume the products are safe. With our global food supply chain, raw ingredients come from all parts of the world and go into making our final products, including baby food. Food and beverage products, including baby foods, can become contaminated or adulterated, so food testing becomes a necessity to ensure product quality and safety. Product testing is even more essential when it comes to baby food, as infants are especially vulnerable.

Metals are found in our environment; they are in the air, water, soil and some are also used in pesticides and can remain in the soil for a long time. These metals, via the soil and water, are absorbed by fruits, vegetables and grains and introduced into the food and beverage supply chain. The top toxic metals include arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium, and at high levels these metals can be dangerous. To learn more about the toxic four refer to our blog post Top Four Toxic Metals in Water: Facts and Testing.

In 2011 there was a big scare regarding inorganic arsenic in apple juice when Dr. Oz (U.S. TV personality) mentioned it on the Dr. Oz talk show. This was particularly concerning because a large amount of apple juice was given to children. Then came arsenic in rice, which was also alarming because rice is a primary staple in many households. We discussed this issue in 2014 in our blog post- ICP-MS Arsenic Speciation in Rice: The Media and The Science and Arsenic Speciation in Rice: Fast & Simple Analysis Using IC-ICP-MS .

These occurrences, and media attention, prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct their own studies and investigate this topic. On the FDA metals webpage, they state that “The FDA actively monitors the levels of these metals in the food supply. We are taking a systematic approach to reduce the risks posed by these metals especially to vulnerable populations such as infants and children, who are most susceptible to some of the harmful neurological and developmental effects.” The FDA has a “Toxic Elements Working Group” that aims to reduce exposure to toxic elements in food, cosmetics and dietary supplements.

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Now in 2019, there is a new report that states that 95 percent of baby foods tested contain toxic metals.  In the study, 168 baby food products were tested for arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium and they found that 95 percent of the products contained at least one of the heavy metals and 26% of the baby food products contained all four of the heavy metals. Out of 168 samples only 9 samples (5%) were free of the four metals. Considering what we have seen in the past it should not come as a surprise that fruit juices and rice-based products were among the high-risk foods. The report also stated that lead was the worst offender, it was present in 94 percent of the baby foods tested.

For the analysis of metals, chromatography methods are used to separate arsenic species (IC-ICP-MS or HPLC-ICP-MS), and ICP-MS methods are used to detect heavy metals. Thermo Fisher Scientific has been testing and providing expertise, solutions and collateral for the analysis of metals in foods and beverages for years. We were present and helping our customers with our instruments and solutions through the arsenic in fruit juice scare, the arsenic in rice scare and now the baby food scare. We have a dedicated webpage focused on Trace Elemental and Speciation Analysis Information.

We conducted a webinar on the Determination of Essential and Trace Elemental Content in Infant Foods by ICP-MS which demonstrates our solution for essential and trace elemental constituents in commercial infant foods intended for the six to twelve-month age group using a Thermo Scientific™ iCAP™ RQ Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) system. The analysis was also able to determine if any toxic elements were present in the baby foods. Read the executive brief.

For more information on our ICP-MS products please refer to our product page.