Get the Lead Out: Ojo Con El Plomo In Your Salsa

By Jose Gonzalez, NewsTaco

*This article was been corrected for accuracy and clarification. The statement “Next time you make enchiladas with El Pato, careful you may get a mouthful of lead as well”, which appeared at the beginning of the article should not be understood to imply that using Walker Foods products, specifically any of their El Pato products, leads to an unsafe consumption of lead in such products. First of all, a “mouthful” is not a scientifically validated quantitative amount and the author would like to stand by being more specific to the data noted in the study referenced in the post: A University of Nevada, Las Vegas study that had indicated that only one of the El Pato salsa samples tested exceeded 0.1 ppm lead, the current FDA action level for lead in candy. That one sample is not representative or should be generalized to represent all Walker Food products or its El Pato brand. Should readers have understood that this meant to avoid all El Pato products, that was not the author’s intent, and thus the statement stands corrected–specifically it will be removed from content of the posted article.

A story from ABC News, in the LA Times, and also noted by the Environmental Health Coalition stated that researchers found high levels of lead in salsa. That is correct: some imported salsas used in our kitchens had traces of lead. Part of how this may have happened is a suspected connection to similar ingredients used to make candy—which in the past has been an issue that led to regulations in California to ban lead-tainted candy.

Now, it does not mean we should stop buying salsa or be suspicious of every salsa brand out there. Out of 25 imported brands studied, only 4 were found to contain lead. But this should point to keeping an awareness of what in our environment may pose more of a risk in regards to lead contamination. This is especially important when there is a concern that Latino children are more at risk because of “cultural practices”—basically some of the foods we eat (i.e. candy) and things we bring into the home (you know that painted clay pottery?).

Reports from CalEPA, from the University of Virginia, and from the Natural Resources Council, all point out some of the risks of lead contamination to Latino families, and especially Latino children. One report from the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health noted how in their county in 2003, Latino children accounted for 65% of the lead poisoning cases. That report also mentions “cultural factors”.

So eating salsa counts as a “cultura factor” no?

If in case you are not sure what the dangers are of lead contamination, it basically leads to brain damage with developmental problems like learning disabilities, anemia, seizures, and in worst cases death. That is why it is a big problem for kids—it affects them when they are most vulnerable developmentally. Thus, having a lead-free environment is a big deal—and it is a bigger deal it is Latino children most likely to be at risk in lead-contaminated environments.

But one thing is to be aware of the problem and another is to have the information to take action. Some options are to check with your state if they have “safe” or “contaminated” lists of products, for example this candy list from California. You can also check recall lists like the one from the CDC. But most important is to pay attention to what you child puts into his or her mouth, what you put on your face, what you consume, when you are most at risk (pregnant, young) and where it may be most common at home. This information is available in español as well.

Fact is that there can be many sources for lead contamination and the best thing is to not panic about every possible source, but seek out information from trusted sources, and to keep alert—there could be lead in your salsa.

Update: Walker Foods has stopped selling El Pato Salsa. (7/24/13).

[Photo courtesy UNLV, Department of Environmental and Occupatinal Health]

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