Chemical contamination of the American food supply is a health concern everyone should be aware of. Chemicals have countless uses and are a necessity for accomplishing daily tasks. For this reason, they are present everywhere in the environment. Certain chemicals, such as lead can be dangerous when exposed to at high levels.
Lead is a natural chemical element known to have toxic consequences in humans. It is particularly dangerous because humans cannot physically see or taste it if present in food. In the past, lead has been used as an additive for things such as gasoline, pesticides, ink, and paint.
Young children under age 3 are at the greatest risk of health issues related to lead exposure. High amounts of lead that accumulate in the body can cause damage to the nervous system, blood system, and kidneys. Toddlers are in the high risk group because of their rapid growth the first few years of life.
Lead contamination of food can occur at any phase of food handling: preparation, processing, packaging, and even storage. Lead-based pesticides can contaminate soil in which vegetables are grown. Lead has been known to ‘leach’ into food from cans manufactured with lead solder. Some food containers and pots contain lead and may contaminate food when stored for long periods.
Here comes the good news. Beginning in the 1980s, the amount of lead intake from food drastically decreased in the American diet thanks to the efforts of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Food manufacturers began restricting the use of lead-soldered food cans. In 1980, 47% of domestically produced food cans were made with lead solder. By 1989 domestic production of lead-soldered food cans decreased to less than 2%.
FDA estimates of average dietary lead intake show that a 2-year-old child ingested about 30 µg/day (micrograms) in 1982. By 1988, that amount had dropped to about 5 µg/day.
There are some practical tips that can be employed to ensure lead does not invade your food and water:
* Always wash hands thoroughly before every meal
* Consider using an effective water filtering device or bottled water for drinking and cooking
* Store food in plastic, glass, or stainless steel containers
* Avoid canned foods from foreign countries as some may still be manufactured with lead solder
* Consider buying organic foods, which are certified to be pesticide-free
Lead levels in the food supply are kept in check by frequent monitoring. The FDA monitors lead levels in food, beverages, and food containers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors lead levels in the drinking water supply.
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