Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause innumerable side effects on the human gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system, haematopoietic system, and other organs including the liver, kidneys and gingival tissue. It is a teratogenic substance, meaning it can be passed on to children in utero, and cause developmental delays and other metabolic disorders.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has issued more alerts for lead, than for the other three sources of food-borne contamination – Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Clostridium botulinum – combined.

The study entitled Examining Lead Exposures in California through State-Issued Health Alerts for Food Contamination and an Exposure-Based Candy Testing Programemphasizes active community monitoring to identify lead in food products such as candy so they can be recalled before too many people are poisoned by them. Without this mandate, health experts would have to wait for children to be poisoned before they are able to start looking for the sources, which is in itself, difficult, due to candy being perishable.

Almost 10,000 children in California under the age of six are poisoned each year by lead. Almost one-tenth of these children poisoned are exposed to extremely high levels of the toxic heavy metal. While most efforts are focused on removing exposure from lead found in gasoline, lead-based paint, and industrially-contaminated soil, experts failed to search for lead in food items as common as candy prior to the law.

Over the course of the study period (14 years), public health officials issued 164 health alerts for food contamination, 60 of which were lead-related. Out of 60 lead-related alerts, 55 were for imported food: 34 percent of which came from Mexico; 24 percent from China; and 20 percent from India.

The study analyzed data from 2011 to 2012, and found that state officials tested 1,346 candies. It was found that 65 different products had lead, 40 of which had exceeded the limits for children.

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