The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has progressed in its efforts to determine whether levels of arsenic in rice and rice products pose a risk to public health, announced the agency on September 6. The agency has collected a total of more than 1,300 samples of rice and rice products. After testing those samples for both total arsenic and inorganic arsenic, which is the more toxic form, the FDA says that the levels of toxic arsenic "are too low to cause immediate health damage."
However, the key word in their announcement: "Immediate." What happens after you ingest toxic arsenic in rice over a period of time? And should you allow your children to include rice in their diets? To answer those questions, the FDA said that they plan to perform "a comprehensive assessment of the public health risk."
Suzanne C. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., the senior advisor for toxicology in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), emphasized that the agency plans "to look at exposure levels, to analyze the risk, and determine how to minimize that risk for the overall safety of consumers, including vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women."
Because arsenic "is a naturally occurring contaminant, and because it's in soil and water, it's going to get into food," says Fitzpatrick. "It's not something that we can just pull off the market."
Worth noting: This announcement follows the concern about arsenic in apple juice, publicized by Dr. Oz. Learn more about that issue by clicking here.
What are your options as a consumer? The FDA suggests these guidelines:
- 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 the negative health effects that could come from eating an excess of any one food," said the FDA.
- Vary grains. Try wheat, barley and oats as alternatives to rice. Our tip: If you're following a gluten-free diet, read the label carefully. Many gluten-free products substitute rice flour for wheat flour.Alternative gluten-free grains include quinoa, millet and buckwheat.
- Do you have an infant? Be aware that "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 grains as a first solid food, and infants would likely benefit from eating a variety of grain cereals."