Food-handling practices can increase lead in food and contribute to lead poisoning
- The quantity of lead in the US diet has decreased markedly in recent years.
- Improperly fired ceramic ware, leaded crystal, and lead-soldered cans result in lead leaching into foods.
Some food-handling practices can increase the lead content of foods.
During the 1980s, the quantity of lead in the U.S. diet decreased markedly. "Market basket" data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), used to estimate typical lead intake, show that the average dietary lead intake for a 2-year-old child was about 30 µg/day in 1982, about 13 µg/day by 1985, and about 5 µg/day in the period 1986- 1988. This reduction was achieved through substantially restricted use of lead-soldered side-seam cans and the phasing out of lead as an additive in gasoline. In 1980, 47% of domestically produced food and soft drink cans were lead-soldered. By 1989 use of lead-soldered cans declined to 1.4% of domestically produced cans. Counter to this trend is the continued use of lead solder in cans of imported foods, because cans manufactured outside the United States typically continue to contain lead solder.
Lead in foods comes from several sources in addition to lead solder: soil in which the plant is grown; air and rain; food processing (including lead leaching from some types of metal cans described above); contact with lead solder or ceramic vessels used to store the food; and contact with lead dusts in the home. If lead contamination is unusually severe, the quantity of lead in the diet will be much higher than the "Market Basket" estimates. Examples include imported food from countries that do not restrict the use of lead solder in cans; storage of foods packaged in lead-soldered cans for over a year or so, even if the can is unopened; storage of acidic foods in ceramic containers made with improperly applied leaded glazes; and food processed with lead- contaminated water.
Under some circumstances, food grown in "urban gardens" may have an elevated lead content if the garden soil is high in lead or if there are high lead concentrations in the air or water used for irrigation. Soil conditions (for example, pH, phosphorus content, buffering capacity, and the amount of organic matter) and the type of plant have a great effect on how much lead is transferred to the plant. The amount transferred is difficult to predict because many factors affect lead uptake. It is recommended that the crops grown on contaminated soil be tested to determine their lead uptake. Such tests may be arranged through the Agriculture Extension Service, state or federal departments of agriculture, or private laboratories.
Occasionally, food supplements can be seriously contaminated with lead. Examples have included various dietary supplements from "natural" sources, such as calcium supplements derived from animal bone sources.
In addition, some food-handling practices in the home can increase the lead content of foods and should be avoided. Foods should not be stored in unopened, lead-soldered cans for over a year or so. Foods should not be stored, even under refrigeration, in opened cans even if the can is subsequently covered. Food should be stored only in containers that do not release lead (for example, glass, stainless steel, or plastic containers). If ceramic food containers are ever used to store food, they should be made with lead-free glazes. Leaded crystal should not be used to store food for prolonged periods of time and should not be used to hold baby formula or juices.
Lead solders should never be used to repair food containers or to construct or repair cooking utensils. High lead levels may be present in hot water prepared in lead-soldered tea pots.'
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