Food and Behaviour Research

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A Spoonful of Lead: A 10-Year Look at Spices as a Potential Source of Lead Exposure

Hore P, Alex-Oni K, Sedlar S, Nagin D (2018) J Public Health Manag Pract. Jan-Feb 2019; 25: S63–S70 doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000876 

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While lead-based paint and occupational lead hazards remain the primary sources of lead exposures among New York City's lead-poisoned children and men, respectively, these are not the only possible lead sources. Certain consumer products are often implicated. Between 2008 and 2017, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene tested more than 3000 samples of consumer products during lead poisoning case investigations and surveys of local stores, and of these, spices were the most frequently tested (almost 40% of the samples).


To describe spice samples—types, origin, lead concentrations, and the implication of findings for public health programs and global food safety regulations.


Descriptive study of lead contamination in spices systematically collected as part of lead poisoning investigations.

Setting and Participants:

A total of 1496 samples of more than 50 spices from 41 countries were collected during investigations of lead poisoning cases among New York City children and adults and local store surveys.


More than 50% of the spice samples had detectable lead, and more than 30% had lead concentrations greater than 2 ppm. Average lead content in the spices was significantly higher for spices purchased abroad than in the United States. The highest concentrations of lead were found in spices purchased in the countries Georgia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Morocco.


Certain commonly used spices, particularly those purchased abroad in Georgia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Morocco, can have very high lead levels, which can contribute to lead body burden. This underscores the need to develop comprehensive interventions that educate consumers and initiate intergovernmental efforts for stricter global food regulations.


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