Why FDA Proposes an ‘Action Level’ for Arsenic in Apple Juice

By: Michael R. Taylor, J.D. 

FDA has always been—and will always be—committed to making sure that the food you eat is safe for you and your family. It’s a challenging job in today’s complex, global marketplace. 

One of those challenges can be summed up in one word: arsenic. This chemical element is found in the Earth’s crust. It’s everywhere in the environment and can be found in water, air and soil, in both organic and inorganic forms. Human activities also can introduce arsenic into the environment. That means that it can also be found in some foods and beverages. 

Today, FDA is acting to help ensure that consumers do not come in contact with apple juice that has levels of inorganic arsenic that exceed 10 parts per billion. That’s the same level that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set for drinking water, which is consumed in much greater quantities. 

FDA tests hundreds of foods and beverages for all kinds of potentially harmful substances, and we have been monitoring the levels of arsenic in foods for decades. Of the two forms of arsenic, we worry about the inorganic kind because long-term exposure can be harmful. 

The agency has always found that the amount of arsenic in apple juice is generally low—much lower, in fact, than the levels allowed in drinking water. Consumer Reports did an important story highlighting its own testing. And in 2011, we substantially increased testing and analysis of apple juice to continue and enhance our monitoring efforts. 

We found that our original belief was correct, that the levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice are too low to cause immediate or short-term health damage. Working with colleagues in EPA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we then looked at potential risk from long-term exposure. 

That risk assessment helped lead us to the “action level” of 10 parts per billion. We believe that this action level will keep any apple juice that may have more inorganic arsenic than that out of the marketplace.  

We will continue to remain vigilant, work with the food industry, and take regulatory action when appropriate to minimize as much as we can the presence of arsenic and other unwanted contaminants in our food supply. 

Michael R. Taylor, J.D., is Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

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