Some people think hot sauces from south of the border contain a little extra something. Unfortunately, in many cases that extra ingredient is lead, according to a new study reported by Food Safety News.
Researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas tested 25 bottles of imported hot sauces from Mexico and South America for lead concentrations and pH levels. They also tested the packaging for lead, because it can leach into food. They purchased the products at local ethnic markets, grocery stores and a swap meet.
About 16 percent of the products tested exceeded the Food and Drug Administration 0.1 parts per million standard for unsafe levels of lead in candy. All four products that tested above that limit were from Mexico, but were from four different manufacturers. (Lead has been found in candy from China, Mexico and the Philippines.)
"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."
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.
Even that 0.1 ppm limit is problematic, the researchers say. "There is no known safe level for lead exposure, as lead poisoning can affect almost every organ in the body and is absorbed faster by children than adults. In young children, lead poisoning has been known to cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and even seizures, comas and death in extreme cases."
Gerstenberger said the test results show the need for "more rigorous screening protocols" for hot sauce and other food products imported from 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.
Gerstenberger also recommends the adoption of 0.1 ppm lead as a standard of unsafe levels for hot sauces. He suggests states adopt policies to reject all imported hot sauces and other food products found to contain detectable concentrations of lead.
You want your hot sauce hot, but you don't want it fully leaded!