Cocoa-containing foods – such as cocoa powder, chocolate chips, milk chocolate bars, and mixes for brownies, chocolate cake, and hot chocolate – contain concerning levels of cadmium or lead in a third of the products tested, according to Consumer Reports.
The advocacy organization is calling on the Hershey Co. to step up its efforts to reduce the levels of toxic heavy metals from its chocolate products after its latest tests. Hershey’s milk chocolate had the highest levels of lead in Consumer Reports’ tests.
“Our tests have found that other brands have succeeded in producing chocolate products with lower levels of heavy metals that are safer for consumers,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports. “As a leading and popular brand, it’s time for Hershey’s to make a firm, time-bound commitment to get dangerous levels of heavy metals out of its chocolate products.”
Last year, Consumer Reports found that a number of Hershey’s dark chocolate bars had some of the highest levels of lead or cadmium of all brands it tested.
The consumer group wanted to see whether other cocoa products posed a risk.
Its scientists tested 48 different products in seven categories and 16 had amounts above Consumer Reports’ levels of concern for at least one of the heavy metals – in some cases more than twice the organization’s limit.
However, there were safer options in each category of chocolate products, Consumer Reports said.
Exposure to heavy metals is of greatest concern in children and during pregnancy, because they can damage the brain and nervous system, causing developmental delays, learning and behavior problems, and more, according to health officials.
But adults can also experience negative effects. For example, frequent lead exposure has been linked to immune system suppression, reproductive issues, kidney damage, and hypertension.
“Consumers need to know that their favorite chocolate products may contain high levels of lead and cadmium, which have been linked to a host of health problems in children and adults,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, which has conducted its own tests on heavy metals in chocolate and pushed companies to produce safer products.
As the country’s biggest chocolate maker, it’s imperative for Hershey’s to help set a new industry standard by getting dangerous levels of heavy metals out of their products, Fugere said.