In Consumer Reports’ recent tests of more than 200 samples of 65 rice and rice products, inorganic arsenic, a known human carcinogen, was found in most of the name-brand and other rice product samples. Levels varied but were significant in some samples.
Though there are federal limits for arsenic in drinking water, there aren’t many standards for arsenic in food. Earlier this year, Consumer Reports found worrisome levels of arsenic in apple and grape juices and called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set limits for arsenic in those juices. Based on its latest findings and analysis, it is asking the government to take additional steps, including urging the FDA to set limits for arsenic in rice and rice products.
CONSUMER REPORTS’ FINDINGS
Consumer Reports tested at least three samples each of a range of rice products including infant cereals, hot cereals, ready-to-eat cereals, rice cakes, rice crackers, rice pasta, rice flour and rice drinks; it found varying, but measurable, amounts of total arsenic in its two forms — inorganic and organic — in samples of almost every product tested. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen that can cause bladder, lung and skin cancers. Two organic forms measured —called DMA and MMA — are classified as possible carcinogens.
This study provides a snapshot of the market, with many products purchased in the New York metropolitan area and online this past spring. It is too limited to provide general conclusions about levels of arsenic in individual brands or categories of rice products, but there were notable findings.
White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than rice samples from elsewhere (India, Thailand and California combined).
Within tested brands offering brown and white rice versions, brown rice had higher average total and inorganic arsenic than their white rice counterparts.
Some brown rice samples were lower in arsenic compared to some white rice samples, which may be explained by agricultural practices or geographic location.
Infant rice cereals and drink products also contained worrisome levels of arsenic. Consumer Reports advises that children under age 5 not be given rice drinks as part of their daily diet, similar to advice given in the United Kingdom regarding rice milk.
People who ate rice had arsenic levels that were at least 44 percent greater than those who did not, according to Consumer Reports’ analysis of federal health data. Certain ethnic groups were more highly affected, including Mexicans, other Hispanics and a broad category that included Asians.
Some food companies are concerned. And methods have been introduced to try to reduce levels of arsenic in products.
WHAT CONSUMERS CAN DO
Consumer Reports used the latest available science to choose a moderate level of protection that balanced safety and feasibility. For infants, children and pregnant women, risks may be heightened. Arsenic risk is based on cumulative exposure over a lifetime. The recommendations are based on a person eating just one product per day or per week over a lifetime. If limits are exceeded one week, cut back the next.
Limit servings to one-fourth cup rice (uncooked) twice a week for adults and one serving a week for kids. Have just three one-cup servings of cold rice cereal a week; 11/2 for kids. Stop at one serving of rice crackers (16 to 18 crackers) a day; half that for kids. For rice cakes, limit to about two servings per week (one to three cakes each); one for kids. Aim for no more than a half cup of rice drinks a day; rarely for kids under 5. And don’t give babies more than one-fourth cup infant rice cereal a day, max.
Other ways to reduce overall exposure to arsenic include:
Rinse raw rice thoroughly before cooking and use a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking (draining the excess water afterward). Research has shown this can reduce arsenic levels.
Experiment with other grains. Though not arsenic-free, other studies have shown wheat and oats tend to have lower levels than rice.
Eat a varied diet to help minimize risk of exposure.
Keep in mind that some vegetables can accumulate arsenic when grown in contaminated soil. To help, clean vegetables thoroughly, especially potato skins.
Limit the consumption of other high-arsenic foods. Some fruit juices such as apple and grape juice can be high in arsenic, as Consumer Reports’ previous tests showed.
Consumers whose home water is not on a public water system should have it tested for arsenic and lead.
2012, Consumers Union Inc.