Salsa con Plomo: Study Finds High Levels of Lead in Mexican Hot Sauces

PHOTO: Is this food poisonous? A UNLV study recently found worrying levels of lead in four salsa brands.

Morey Milbradt/Getty Images

Do you cook with hot sauce? You might want to be cautious the next time you pick out a salsa bottle from your local supermarket shelf.

Researchers at the Universtiy of Nevada Las Vegas recently found worryingly high levels of lead in four Mexican salsa brands that are available in some parts of the U.S.

The brands include El Pato Salsa Picante, Salsa Habanera, Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero and Bufalo Salsa Clasica.

Researchers at UNLV said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently has no benchmark that determines which levels of lead are "unsafe" in hot sauces. But they said that these four brands had lead levels which exceeded 0.1 parts per million, which is the current FDA standard for "safe" lead levels in candy.

So what does salsa have to do with candy? It appears that hot sauces from Mexico contain similar ingredients to spicy candies that are manufactured in that country, and are also sold at ethnic food stores throughout the U.S.

The UNLV research team said that it actually began to study levels of lead in Mexican salsa because back in 2006, it had found unsafe quantities of lead in spicy candies imported from Mexico. Those findings, prompted officials to take some of these candy brands off supermarket shelves.

Salsa fans shouldn´t freak out, though. The UNLV research team said that they checked out 25 brands of imported hot sauces, and only found lead problems in these four -- or 16 percent of the brands they studied.

The researchers said that high levels of lead in one´s food can affect "any organ in the body." Children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, as it can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and seizures.

Fortunately, hot sauces are not usually a big part of a child´s diet. But researchers said that children from certain cultural backgrounds are accustomed to consuming them.

"Although hot sauce would not intuitively be counted amongst food products highly consumed by children, the study suggests that ethnic and cultural practices must be considered," the researchers conclude.

Further testing is expected to continue, as the UNLV team helps the FDA to come up with a safe level of lead content for hot sauces.

In the meantime, please be careful with which salsa brands you pick.

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