Two disturbing Congressional baby food safety reports were released in February and September 2021, revealing that many of the most popular brands of baby foods were selling products that were tainted with dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals.
Among the brand names mentioned were Gerber and Beech-Nut, well known for their baby and toddler food items.
The results of these reports are concerning because even low levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium can be detrimental to babies and growing toddlers.
Exposure to these heavy metals can cause permanent damage to your child’s brain development. It may lead to IQ decrease and behavioral issues. (1)(2)
New parents, and even unsuspecting seasoned parents, have enough worries on their plates regarding their children’s well-being to have to also think about issues of food contamination such as these.
In light of these findings, it’s becoming increasingly harder to trust big-name brands and the quality of their products.
Lawmakers and parents alike are now putting pressure on the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to introduce stricter testing policies for companies such as Beech-Nut.
One of the main changes being pressed is to require baby food manufacturers to test the finished products for heavy metals rather than testing individual components before formulations are made.
In January 2023, the FDA announced that they’re planning on putting limits on the lead content in baby food. They’re also creating a new department to focus on food safety.
Keep reading to learn more.
Which Baby Food Brands Are Toxic?
In a detailed Congressional Report on toxic products released last February 2021, the US Congress Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy asked the following baby food manufacturers for the test results of products reported to have high levels of toxic heavy metals: (3)
- Beech-Nut Nutrition Company (Beech-Nut)
- Nurture, Inc. (HappyBABY and HappyTOT)
- Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Earth’s Best Organic)
- Campbell’s Plum Organics
- Walmart Inc. (Parent’s Choice)
- Sprout Foods, Inc. (Sprout Organic Foods)
Of these seven baby food companies, only Beech-Nut, Gerber, Nurture, and Hain submitted test results and internal testing policies to the Subcommittee. The rest refused to cooperate. (3)
Despite complying with the Subcommittee’s request, the four companies remained under fire. Their test results showed heavy metal levels in their ingredients and baby food products were several times the FDA’s maximum allowable levels. (3)
Instead of meeting FDA’s standards, the baby food manufacturers created their own internal standards with increased limits that make it appear as if their products passed. In reality, their results are several times higher than the FDA standards. (3)
Beech-Nut In Subcommittee Congressional Report On Toxic Baby Foods
Is Beech-Nut Baby Food Safe?
According to the first Congressional Report, Beech-Nut declared that all its raw materials passed internal standards. But the company set very high internal maximum levels, so the ingredients actually failed government regulations. (3)
- 300+ ppb in additives (used in different products)
- 913.4 ppb in raw materials
- The company doesn’t test products or ingredients for mercury.
- Up to 886.9 ppb (raw materials)
- Up to 344.55 ppb (raw materials)
Second Congressional Report
In September 2021, the Subcommittee submitted a follow-up report. It announced that the state of Alaska independently tested Beech-Nut baby food products and still found dangerously high levels of inorganic arsenic. (4)
Despite Alaska’s test results, the second Congressional baby food report revealed that Beech-Nut failed to notify the public or pull all those affected products from the market. (4)
Beech-Nut Rice Cereal (product codes 103470XXXX and 093470XXXX; expiration date of May 1, 2022) were recalled on June 8, 2021. (8)
But to date, no further Beech-Nut recalls have been announced, despite at least four other products also having high levels of arsenic. (4)
Does Beech-Nut Have Heavy Metals?
The FDA sets the maximum limits in ppb (parts per billion) for infant rice cereal to 100 ppb inorganic arsenic, but the Beech-Nut rice cereals have more than this limit.
Three samples associated with the two recalled products tested by Alaska had the following inorganic arsenic levels: (4)
- Product code 103470XXXX: 125 ppb
- Product code 093470XXXX, sample 1: 122 ppb
- Product code 093470XXXX, sample 2: 116 ppb
Aside from these samples from recalled products, Alaska reported four Beech-Nut rice cereal product codes that also tested over the FDA’s arsenic limits: (4)
Notably, there were two different samples for 243470XXXX from the same lot. Both showed high levels of inorganic arsenic. The Congressional Report stated that these results are proof that Beech-Nut should have issued a recall on this product code, too. (4)
Other Companies In Congressional Report On Toxic Baby Foods
The following companies were also listed on the Congressional reports: (3)(4)
Gerber Products Company
The company submitted test results for raw materials only, acknowledging that it doesn’t test finished products for heavy metal content. (3)
- No test for mercury.
- Up to 90 ppb (rice flour)
- Up to 48 ppb (sweet potatoes)
- Over 5 ppb in 75% of raw ingredients (carrots)
- Up to 87 ppb (some carrot batches)
- No test for cadmium in other raw materials or ingredients.
Nurture, Inc. (HappyBABY And Happy Family Organics)
Nurture regularly tests both ingredients and finished products for heavy metals, unlike the other baby food manufacturers in the Congressional Report.
But despite knowing that their finished products had high levels of heavy metals, Nurture continued to release them without any corrections. The company admitted that the heavy metal test results aren’t the basis for product release. (3)
- Up to 100 ppb (over 25% of Nurture finished baby products)
- Up to 160 (Strawberry & Beet Puffs)
- Up to 160 (Banana & Pumpkin Puffs)
- Up to 180 ppb (Apple & Broccoli Puffs)
- Up to 9.8 ppb (Banana Sweet Potato)
- Up to 10 ppb (Brown Rice Cereal Canister)
- Up to 10 ppb (Nurture vegetables and rice products)
- Up to 560 ppb (Multi-Grain Cereal Canister)
- Up to 641 ppb (Blueberry Purple Carrot)
- Up to 5 ppb (65% of Nurture products)
- Up to 36 ppb (Strawberry Raspberry)
- Up to 49 ppb (Multi-Grain Cereal Canister)
Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Earth’s Best Organic)
Hain admitted that it doesn’t test for actual heavy metal content but only makes “theoretical calculations” from ingredient results. (3)
- Up to 309 ppb (ingredients)
- Up to 129 ppb (finished products)
- No test for mercury.
- Up to 352 ppb (raw materials)
- Up to 260 ppb (ingredients)
Campbell Soup Company (Plum Organics)
The company refused to provide the Subcommittee with their actual test results or internal standards, insisting that their finished products “meet criteria.” (3)
But data from Healthy Babies Bright Futures showed the following results for Just Sweet Potato Organic Baby Food: (5)
- Less than 0.142 ppb
- Up to 3.1 ppb
- Up to 5.6 ppb
- Up to 2.3 ppb
Walmart Inc. (Parent’s Choice)
Walmart also refused to submit results or internal standards to the Subcommittee. These are data from the Healthy Babies Bright Futures report: (5)
- Up to 108 ppb (Organic Strawberry Rice Rusks)
- Up to 56.1 ppb (Little Hearts Strawberry Yogurt Cereal Snack)
- Up to 2.05 ppb (Organic Strawberry Rice Rusks)
- Up to 0.941 ppb (Little Hearts Strawberry Yogurt Cereal Snack)
- Up to 26.9 ppb (Organic Strawberry Rice Rusks)
- Up to 5.2 ppb (Little Hearts Strawberry Yogurt Cereal Snack)
- Up to 26.1 ppb (Little Hearts Strawberry Yogurt Cereal Snack)
- Up to 2.4 ppb (Organic Strawberry Rice Rusks)
Sprout Foods, Inc. (Sprout Organic Foods)
The company never responded to the Congressional Subcommittee. So, these results for Organic Quinoa Puffs Baby Cereal Snack – Apple Kale also come from the Healthy Babies Bright Futures report: (5)
- Up to 107 ppb
- Up to 1.31 ppb
- Up to 39.3 ppb
- Up to 41.5 ppb
Reducing Heavy Metals in Baby Food Products
Heavy metals could greatly affect the body and brain development of young children. So, Consumer Reports, the US PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), and other concerned groups call for the approval of the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021. (6)
It will require baby food manufacturers to test and disclose their results to parents and regulators. It will also direct the FDA to create and implement stricter heavy metal limits for baby foods. (6)
In response to public outcry, the FDA announced its action plan called “Closer to Zero.” It aims to reduce toxic elements from foods of babies and young children by lowering the allowable limits. (7)
If implemented, this could lower the limit to 15 ppb for infant cereal and 10 ppb in other baby foods, as proposed by the Baby Food Safety Act. (4)
If that happens, then Beech-Nut will need to pull more products off the shelves. Because even the rice cereal samples (product code 193470XXXX; arsenic level 52.2 ppb) with the lowest inorganic arsenic content have at least three times the allowable limit. (4)
What Are The Healthiest Baby Food Brands?
The following may be healthier alternatives to the unsafe products in the report:
- Serenity Kids
- Yumi (subscription-based)
- Little Spoon (subscription-based)
- Once Upon A Farm
Preparing Healthier Alternatives At Home
You can also prepare fresh, organic baby foods at home using appliances you already have in your kitchen. Products like a Baby Brezza Small Baby Food Maker Set – Cooker and Blender can also help.
But a blender or simple food processor will also do the trick. No need to buy any new gadgets.
You can prepare healthy, fresh baby food at home using:
- Whole or puréed vegetables and fruits
- Raw yogurt or coconut yogurt
- Quality meats, poultry, or fish
- Bone broth
- Healthy fats such as ghee, olive oil, or coconut oil
Although sweet potatoes and carrots can also have high lead and cadmium levels, they are also important sources of vitamin A and other nutrients. Include these in your child’s diet in moderate amounts. (5)
It’s also best to avoid using rice and rice flour because they might have high cadmium, lead, and arsenic levels. (5)
Was There A Recall On Baby Food In 2021?
Despite the Subcommittee report showing that several products had high levels of heavy metals, Beech-Nut only issued this cereal recall:
Beech-Nut Single Grain Rice Cereal
- Date Recalled: June 8, 2021
- Company Name: Beech-Nut
- Reasons For Recall: High arsenic levels
- Affected Products: UPC Code# 52200034705; Product codes 103470XXXX and 093470XXXX; Expiration date of 01MAY2022 (8)
- Return or Refund Processing: www.beechnut.com/ricecereal or 1-866-272-9417
Statement from Jason Jacobs, Beech-Nut‘s vice president for food safety and quality: (9)
“The safety of infants and children is Beech-Nut’s top priority. We are issuing this voluntary recall because we learned through routine sampling by the State of Alaska that a limited quantity of Beech-Nut Single Grain Rice Cereal products had levels of naturally-occurring inorganic arsenic above the FDA guidance level, even though the rice flour used to produce these products tested below the FDA guidance level for inorganic arsenic.”
Baby Food Recall (News & Updates)
Lawsuit Filed Against Baby Food Companies
Update: March 10, 2023
A lawsuit was filed in Southern California against the baby food companies mentioned in the Congressional report over their possible links with autism and ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). (10)
Experts invited by Attorney Pedram Esfandiary’s group explained to a judge that the heavy metals in these tainted foods can interact with the brain, resulting in these conditions. (10)
FDA Proposes New Food Safety Unit
Update: February 2, 2023
The FDA announces the plan to create the Human Foods Program, which is a new food safety unit that will focus on nutrition and ensuring the safety of the US food supply. (11)
The deputy commissioner for this new unit will have clear decision-making authority and will be tasked to improve US nutrition to address chronic diseases potentially caused by poor nutrition, explains FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf. (11)
FDA Proposes New Limits On Lead In Baby Foods
The FDA also proposes lead level limits for baby food: (12)(13)
- Lower than 10 ppb (parts per billion) in most vegetables and fruits, yogurts, custards and puddings, meat, and mixed meals (e.g., grain and meat-based mixtures)
- Maximum of 20 ppb in dry baby cereals and root crops (e.g., beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots) that grow underground and can absorb more lead from the soil
The FDA estimates that these new limits can reduce young kids’ dietary lead exposure by 24-27%.
However, baby food safety advocates (e.g., Consumer Reports and Healthy Babies Bright Futures) push for lower lead limits and for the FDA to include limits on the other heavy metals also found in baby food, including mercury and cadmium. (12)(13)