Four Mexican Hot Sauces Found to Contain Lead

Michael Harper for – Your Universe Online

Researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) have found amounts of lead in four brands of hot sauce available in the US.

After analyzing 25 bottles of hot sauce available in ethnic markets, grocery stores and one swap meet, the researchers discovered four of the bottles, or 16 percent, contained lead levels exceeding 0.1 parts per million (ppm). Each of the four lead-containing bottles of hot sauce, El Pato Salsa Picante, Salsa Habanera, Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero and Bufalo Salsa Clasica, came from four different manufacturers in Mexico, according to ABC News.

They also studied bottles of hot sauce from areas in South America to find levels of lead which may have ended up in the bottle due to contaminated chili peppers and salt. Currently there is no “safe level” for lead exposure as the dangerous chemical has been found to affect both children and adults. The UNLV team have had their results published in the latest edition of the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part B.

Shawn Gerstenberger and Jennifer Berger Ritchie conducted this study with UNLV and worked with researchers from the Southern Nevada Health District. The issue of lead in hot sauce first arose in 2006 when spicy Mexican candies were evaluated and found to contain the chemical. These candies contained contaminated chilies and salt, leading Gerstenberger and Berger Ritchie to wonder if the same ingredients could have made their way into hot sauce bottles. The pair then shopped for 25 different varieties of hot sauce from Mexico and South America and brought the condiments back to the lab. After shaking the bottles for 60 seconds, the team took lead and pH levels of each sauce as well as a measurements of lead in the packaging. The team notes lead in the packaging has been known to leak into the product. Of the 25 bottles they sampled, four of them contained 0.1 ppm of lead.

Now Gerstenberger says the results of this study should move the FDA to define a safe limit for lead in these sauces.

“The results indicate the need for more rigorous screening protocols for products imported in Mexico, including an applicable standard for hot sauce,” Gerstenberger said in a statement.

“Without enforceable standards for hot sauces and condiments, manufacturers will not be encouraged to improve quality control measures designed to reduce the amounts of lead and other toxic elements before exporting.”

Until further research is done, Gerstenberger is suggesting the FDA stick with 0.1 ppm as an unsafe amount of lead in hot sauces and other foodstuffs.

Though dangerous, lead is a common element found in soil, water and other man-made materials such as paint. It can affect human beings at all levels of exposure and is particularly harmful to children. The UNLV study raises the debate of whether children are in danger of becoming exposed to lead through hot sauce. While children aren’t normally keen on spicy foods, the researchers point out there may be some cultural differences at play which may make hot sauce a regularly consumed condiment on the dinner table. Young children who are poisoned by lead often develop learning disabilities and behavioral problems.