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Study Finds Concerning Levels of Lead in Imported Hot Sauces

A new study out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas may give spicy food-lovers pause. Researchers at UNLV reported this week they have found concerning levels of lead in several types of imported hot sauces that were tested.

The study, by Shawn Gerstenberger and Jennifer Berger Ritchie, and published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, is the first known investigation into lead levels in hot sauces, according to the university.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have a safe standard for lead in hot sauce, but it did set one for candy after evidence showed lead was an issue in certain imported products. The agency has set that limit at 0.1 parts per million (ppm).

Taking 25 bottles of imported hot sauces from Mexico and South America, the researches tested each for lead concentrations and pH levels; they also tested the packaging for lead, which can leach into food.

About 16 percent of the products tested exceeded the 0.1 ppm standard for unsafe levels of lead in candy. All four products that tested above that limit were imported from Mexico. The brands included El Pato Salsa Picante, Salsa Habenera Castillo, Salsa Picante de Chile Habenero El Yucateca, and Bufalo Salsa Clasica.

“Although hot sauce would not intuitively be counted amongst food products highly consumed by children, the study suggests that ethnic and cultural practices must be considered,” according to a release by UNLV. “If hot sauce is a regular part of a child’s diet, it could contribute to unsafe levels of lead exposure, especially when combined with exposure to lead in the soil, cookware, and candies, or paint manufactured before 1978.”

Gerstenberger, one of the study’s authors, said the results show the need for “more rigorous screening protocols” for hot sauce and other food products imported in Mexico.

“Without enforceable standards for hot sauces and condiments, manufacturers will not be encouraged to improve quality control measures designed to reduce the amounts of lead and other toxic elements before exporting,” he said.

This post has been updated with brands of hot sauce.

© Food Safety News
  • John

    Sure would be nice to know which ingredient is responsible for the lead. Is it in the water, the vinegar, the pepper, the spices??? That information alone would provide a huge help in choosing specific products.

  • Joepalooka1

    Tennesee Sunshine = a very FLAVORFULL hot sauce.

  • MJB58

    I would say the possibility of it coming from the production equipment and from the repairs to said equipment is always suspect. Isn’t this world wide economy GREAT !! (always having to watch our backs since most governments and companies put on a façade about caring and are in the pockets of those that produce these products).

    • J T

      Production equipment and cookware is definite possibility. I bet it’s from the soil the peppers grow in. I installed a few hundred square feet of Mexican Saltillo tile in my condo, and I would commonly see rather large chunks of lead inside the natural earthen tile as I sawed through them (the lead pieces would make sparks and sort of melt a little bit). It’s a natural clay tile that is hand-formed and sun-baked, and they get the clay simply by digging it up. If there is lead in this clay, then I’m sure there could easily be lead in whatever soil they are growing crops in.

  • KennethKendrick

    During production most food is supposed to go through REALLY strong magnets, and a lot of food goes through metal devices. I doubt Mexico will spend much effort tracing the source though.

  • Brian

    An article I read earlier explained that the source of the lead was likely caused by the addition of mined salt added to the sauce. Sea salt is considered the much better choice.

  • Pedro

    Where’s the list of sauces? Oh, right , I have to buy the study to find that out.

  • Hugh G. Rekshun

    It would be nice to know what specific hot sauce brands came back with high levels of lead. Idiots!

    • pepper

      About 16 percent of the products tested exceeded the 0.1 ppm standard for unsafe levels of lead in candy. All four products that tested above that limit were imported from Mexico. The brands included El Pato Salsa Picante, Salsa Habenera Castillo, Salsa Picante de Chile Habenero El Yucateca, and Bufalo Salsa Clasica.
      this was the names

  • Idiot Defender

    The fifth paragraph seems to list the four major offenders… I saw in another article that Salsa Habenera Castillo contained 0.12 ppm while the others went as high as 0.23 ppm.

  • Idiot Defender

    The fifth paragraph seems to list the four major offenders… I saw in
    another article that Salsa Habenera Castillo contained 0.12 ppm while
    the others went as high as 0.23 ppm.

  • J T

    I don’t know if that’s true, but if lead doesn’t spark, then the 4.5″ masonry blade on my angle grinder certainly does spark when it cuts through the small lead chunks in the tile.

  • ChileGirl

    There is no clear data at this point on WHERE the lead is coming from exactly. There was consistency however in that all four bottle use metal caps (vs. plastic) and within the metal caps…specific colored caps had more lead than others. Salt and Chile Peppers can also be sources for lead, and as these are lead ingredients in many sauces, could also be a source.

    I work for a company that produces sauces in Costa Rica (CENTRAL AMERICA) and we’ve been hit with calls about OUR sauce (which is NOT one of the ones listed). You’d be surprised by how many folks think that Mexico = South America (technically it’s North America) and how many folks think that CENTRAL America is also South America. Oi Vey!

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.peterson.750983 Eric Peterson

      El Yucateco has plastic caps