Arsenic in Food: Weighing in on the Safety of Rice

Arsenic in food products

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Less than a year after arsenic was found in apple juice,  the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Consumer Reports recently released shocking results of a study linking rice and inorganic arsenic after testing 200 rice products. Arsenic is a chemical that is naturally present in the earth, but is more well-known for its use as a pesticide.  Consumption of elevated levels of arsenic has been linked to long-term health effects.
It can be alarming to hear that a “poisonous” material is being linked to our food supply, but here are a few facts that you should know about arsenic in food:

Arsenic is naturally found in the environment

Arsenic is found naturally in the environment—the air, water, and soil.  In addition, arsenic was a commonly used pesticide until the 1970s when alternative solutions were found.  Arsenic is also used in wood products to prevent insects.  Due to its use in the agricultural setting, arsenic is still present in some ground waters and lands used for growing food.  Inorganic arsenic has long been named a carcinogen.

Arsenic is also found in drinking water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken the stance that no exposure to arsenic is safe.  With that being said, they also acknowledge that exposure may be inevitable.  The EPA has set up a 10 part per billion (ppb) limit on arsenic in drinking water, but many foods have no limits on the amounts that can be present.

Consumers may want to start cutting down on rice consumption

Rice is still deemed safe by the FDA.  They have not made any suggestions that consumers limit their rice consumption.  The FDA did state that consumers should eat a diet with “a wide variety of grains.”   After their final study of 1,200 rice products, the FDA will make suggestions about the consumption of rice to the public.

On the contrary, Consumer Reports released their study (based on a 5 ppb arsenic “limit”) suggesting that consumers could be taking in 1.5 times more arsenic in their rice products than a whole day’s worth of drinking water.  Arsenic levels in some infant rice cereals were found to be 5 times higher than other cereal alternatives.

With this information, Consumer Reports has suggested limiting rice consumption to 2 times per week for adults and limiting infant cereal to once per day.  (To see other recommendations view the full Consumer Reports recommendations here:

The Consumer Reports study is enough for me to being cutting down my rice consumption.  Rice is still a very healthy part of a balanced diet, but it may be best not to eat it every day.  Rice alternatives that you could add to your meals include: quinoa, millet, or couscous.

Will this news change your rice consumption?