New Proposed OEHHA Limit for Naturally Occurring Lead in Candy Containing Chili or Tamarind

Posted on Behalf of  Kathy Chan, Dan Dinh

Chili powder is a popular ingredient in a variety of candies. In 2007, OEHHA initiated a process in coordination with federal, state, and local agencies, researchers, and industry representatives to determine naturally occurring levels of lead in candy that contained chili and tamarind (OEHHA, 2019a). On March 15, 2019, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) proposed to add a new chapter and section to Title 27 of the California Code of Regulations that establishes a limit for naturally occurring lead of 0.02 parts per million (ppm) in candy containing chili and/or tamarind (OEHHA, 2019b).

OEHHA initially investigated the presence of lead in chili peppers from California and Mexico, then estimated the total amount of naturally occurring lead in chili- or tamarind-containing candies by evaluating several ingredients that are potential contributors to naturally occurring lead (e.g., chili peppers, chili powder, tamarind, food-grade salt, sugar, food-grade silicon dioxide, and food-grade titanium dioxide). They reported no or minimal levels of lead in fresh chili peppers and peppers that underwent a combination of cleaning and additional processing (OEHHA, 2019a). To determine the amount of naturally occurring lead levels in the aforementioned ingredients, OEHHA reviewed data provided by various candy manufacturers, as well as from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Total Diet Study. The maximum concentration of lead contributed by all ingredients across typical candy formulations was 0.02 ppm (OEHHA, 2019a). Based on this finding, OEHHA analyzed 195 samples of candy produced by nine manufacturers in Mexico for lead content and found that 11.8% had lead concentrations above 0.01 ppm and that 7.7% above 0.02 ppm (OEHHA, 2019a). In 2019, OEHHA further noted that none of the chili- and/or tamarind-flavored candies produced by identified California manufacturers contained detectable lead levels in the last five years (OEHHA, 2019c).

Besides naturally occurring levels in the candy itself, other potential sources of lead in candy products include wrappers and stems (CDC, 2002; CDC, 2019; Jacobs et al., n.d.; Lynch et al., 2000). It was noted that, due to the pH of the candy, there is potential for leaching of lead from the ink on the wrapper and stem into the candy (CDC, 2002; Lynch et al., 2000). This potential leaching source highlights the need to focus on the manufacturing and food packaging processes to control for sources of lead contamination. Additional foods and products have been noted to contain some amount of lead, such as some chocolate, flavored salt, hot sauces, spices, traditional medicines, folk remedies, ceremonial powders, cosmetics, and pottery (CDC, 2002; CDC, 2019; Jacobs et al., n.d.; Ritchie & Gerstenberger, 2013; Villa et al., 2014). Handley et al., 2017 noted that it is unclear what other imported food items may be contaminated with lead. Overall, Lynch et al. (2000) recognized the difficulty in food safety surveillance and underscored the importance of collaboration between agencies to develop appropriate interventions to address this public health concern.

OEHHA provided an updated initial statement of reasons on June 19, 2020, in which they determined that there was no reasonable alternative to the proposed regulation (OEHHA, 2020). The public comment period was open from June 19, 2020, until August 18, 2020 (OEHHA, 2020). As of December 2020, the final statement of reasons has not been made publicly available by OEHHA.

Cardno ChemRisk scientists have assisted companies in evaluating potential hazards and exposures posed by chemicals in consumer products and foods. Additionally, our scientists are experienced at evaluating large and diverse product lines to best prioritize products or chemicals in order to maintain compliance with Proposition 65. We provide advice and assistance regarding screening level testing plans, screening or refined exposure assessments, and acceptable risk level calculations. For more information regarding Cardno ChemRisk’s food and beverage capabilities, please contact Dr. Ania Urban.