September 6, 2013
As part of its ongoing and proactive effort to monitor food safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today posted the results of testing for the presence of arsenic in approximately 1,300 samples of rice and rice products. This includes the approximately 200 samples of rice and rice products that the FDA initially tested and released the findings in September 2012.
While levels varied significantly depending on the product tested, agency scientists determined that the amount of detectable arsenic is too low in the rice and rice product samples to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects.
This new data is the latest of the FDA’s ongoing efforts to understand and manage possible arsenic-related risks associated with the consumption of these foods in the U.S. marketplace.
The FDA has been monitoring arsenic levels in rice for more than 20 years and has seen no evidence of change in levels of total arsenic in rice. We now have tools that provide greater specificity about the different types of arsenic present in foods.
Since rice is a life-long dietary staple for many people, the FDA’s next step is to use these new tools to consider long-term exposure to very low amounts of arsenic in rice and rice products
The FDA’s advice for consumers, including pregnant women, infants and children, is to eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food. This advice is consistent with the guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has long stated that parents should feed their infants and toddlers a variety of foods as part of a well-balanced diet.
The Data Collection Results
Arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally occurring substance or as a result of contamination from human activity. It is found in water, air, soil and foods. In foods, arsenic may be present as inorganic arsenic (the most toxic form of arsenic) or organic arsenic. Together the two types of arsenic are referred to as total arsenic.
The more than 1,300 total samples tested and analyzed by the FDA in 2012 and more recently included various types of rice grain (e.g., white, jasmine, basmati) and rice products, including: infant and toddler cereals; pasta; grain-based bars; snacks, such as rice cakes; cookies and pastries; desserts and puddings; and beverages, including beer, rice wine and rice water. Serving sizes varied with the product types. Taken together, the samples cover most types of rice grain and rice-based foods and beverages consumed in the United States.
Among the rice grain categories, the average levels of inorganic arsenic ranged from 2.6 to 7.2 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving, with instant rice at the low end of the range and brown rice at the high end. Among the rice product categories, of which there was a wide variety, the average levels of inorganic arsenic ranged from 0.1 to 6.6 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving, with infant formula at the low end of the range and rice pasta at the high end. These amounts of detectable arsenic are not high enough to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects. A summary of the findings is available on the Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products main page4.
The total number of samples was large enough to accurately measure average levels of arsenic in rice and rice products sold in the U.S. market, but not large enough to evaluate specific brands. In addition, some companies source their rice from different or varying locations, which may result in rice samples from the same brand having different levels of arsenic over time. As a result, the FDA determined it was not meaningful to report brand names.
The agency is not aware of any published quantitative assessment of risk for arsenic in rice.
The FDA intends to conduct a risk assessment considering how much arsenic is consumed from rice and rice products, and whether there are variations in health effects for certain segments of the population.
The draft risk assessment is ongoing and will be released to the public following peer review. Once it is completed, the assessment will help the FDA decide whether any further actions might be necessary.
In the meantime, the FDA will continue to consult with its federal partners as well as with industry, the agricultural community, consumer groups, and others as part of the agency’s process.
Furthermore, the FDA is conducting additional sampling to broaden its data on infant and toddler products.
Advice for Consumers
Based on the currently available data and scientific literature, the FDA advises consumers to:
- Eat a well-balanced diet. All consumers, including pregnant women, infants and children, are encouraged to eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food. This advice is consistent with the guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has long stated that parents should feed their infants and toddlers a variety of foods as part of a well-balanced diet.
- Vary your grains: Rice, rice flour or brown rice syrup are present in foods as diverse as cookies, gluten-free pasta, teething biscuits and beer. The FDA requires food companies to list a product’s ingredients by weight from most to least abundant, and the agency encourages consumers to check the ingredients. Like rice, other grains – such as wheat, barley and oats – are nutritious grains that consumers can eat to help vary their diet. Parents seeking to diversify their infant or toddler’s diet can limit the number of servings of rice cereal per week and use cereals made from other types of grain.
- Consider diversifying infant foods: The FDA recognizes that children routinely eat rice products and that by tradition many infants are fed rice cereal as their first solid food. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no medical evidence that rice cereal has any advantage over other cereal grains as a first solid food and infants would likely benefit from an array of grain cereals.