Market Basket Study of Arsenic Concentration and Speciation in Locally-Available Rice-Based Baby Cereals and Related Products

Tracy Punshon, Ph.D.
Kathy Cottingham Ph.D.
Brian P. Jackson, Ph.D.

Project Results

This study quantified arsenic concentrations in a range of infant milk formulas and first and second foods. The results of the study where presented at an international meeting on Trace Elements in Food (TEF-4, Aberdeen, Scotland, August 2011) and were published in Pure and Applied Chemistry, 2012, 84: 215-224. The levels of arsenic in infant formula were relatively low, ca. < 1 – 1.7 ppb in the reconstituted formula and all the arsenic was present as inorganic arsenic. Arsenic in first and second foods was generally low also except one or two fruit purees which were found to be high (ca. 20 ppb vs <5 ppb for other purees) and rice-based second foods (e.g. meat and rice etc.) were higher in arsenic than non-rice based second foods. Our market basket study also revealed two toddler formulas that were very high in arsenic compared to the infant formulas that we had analyzed (30 – 60 ppb total As in the reconstituted formula), the concentration of inorganic As varied between product (soy vs. dairy) and lot, but was ca. 8 ppb – 25 ppb. This brand of formula used brown rice syrup as a sweetener and we immediately recognized that this was the source of arsenic. Further study of other products, namely cereal/energy bars, that contain brown rice syrup and other rice ingredients showed that the arsenic concentration was related to the presence of rice products as ingredients in the bars. At most, these bars contributed about 2.5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic to diet compared to a no effect level of 10 µg established by the state of California in proposition 65. This finding about brown rice syrup and products containing brown rice syrup generated a lot of media interest. When the paper was published online (Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(5):623-626) it generated over 23,000 hits in the first week and prompted statements from the FDA, the Organic Trade Association and the US Rice Federation and has generally heightened awareness of the possible role of food as a source of arsenic to diet.