On May 24, 2021, the consumer protection groups Food & Water Watch and Empire State Consumer Project, Inc. (ESCP) requested (via letter) that the FDA take action to address the allegedly high levels of arsenic and lead found in many vinegar products.
ESCP tested 24 samples of major brands of vinegars or vinegar reductions or glazes and found that 11 contained arsenic or lead and 7 contained both. And, of the 11 products, 10 were balsamic products and all were imported from Italy, Greece, or Spain. Arsenic levels in contaminated products ranged from 70 parts per billion (ppb) to more than 1,040 ppb, which means at maximum levels, one tablespoon serving of vinegar would exceed FDA’s maximum allowable level of 0.01 mg arsenic in one liter of drinking water (equivalent to 10 ppb arsenic). Lead levels ranged from 68.6 to 127 ppb, which exceeded the 34 ppb safe harbor level for balsamic vinegars under California’s Proposition 65.
Citing to the dangers of arsenic and lead exposure, particularly to developing fetuses, the letter requests FDA to perform product testing and establish limits and warnings addressing lead and arsenic in vinegars and vinegar reductions or glazes.
This letter comes in the wake of the fallout from the Congressional report on heavy metals (including arsenic and lead) in baby foods, which has prompted FDA’s Closer to Zero Plan as well as proposed legislation in Congress, both aimed at reducing heavy metals levels in baby foods. Keller and Heckman will continue to monitor any developments in the regulation of heavy metals in food.
The National Law Review, 1 June 2021