Arsenic in Food and Dietary Supplements
Arsenic may be present in foods because it is in the environment. The levels of arsenic that are naturally in soil, air, and water are generally low but can vary depending on the environmental makeup of local areas. The levels of arsenic in the environment can also be higher because of past use of arsenic-containing pesticides on food crops and limited current use of those pesticides on non-food crops, and pollution from mining, fracking, and coal-fired power plants.
Arsenic in the environment can be taken up by plants, including fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as by animals. It is more common in certain foods and foods grown in geographical areas with higher levels of arsenic.
Arsenic is toxic to humans and can affect people of any age or health status. One form of arsenic, inorganic arsenic, is the most potentially harmful. The FDA monitors and regulates levels of arsenic in foods, including dietary supplements, and cosmetics. While it is not possible to prevent or remove arsenic entirely from foods, levels in food can be reduced. By law, food manufacturers have a responsibility to implement controls as needed to significantly minimize or prevent exposure to chemical hazards, including arsenic.
To determine if the level of arsenic in a food is a potential health concern, we consider the toxicity of arsenic and exposure based on the level of arsenic measured in the food and consumption by specific population groups (e.g., very young children). If the agency finds that the level of arsenic in a food causes the food to be unsafe, we take action, which may include working with the manufacturer to resolve the issue and taking steps to prevent the product from entering, or remaining in, the U.S. market.
The FDA’s goal is to limit consumer exposure to arsenic, with a focus on protecting the very young, through developing regulations, action levels, and advice to consumers. The agency considers the health effects of the ‘whole food’, which includes the potential harmful health effects of specific contaminants that may be present, as well as the food’s nutrients that are vital to growth and development for babies and small children and help promote health and prevent disease throughout our lifespan.
For more information about our specific activities to reduce exposure to arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium from foods consumed by babies and young children please visit the FDA’s Closer to Zero page.
The FDA’s goal is to limit consumer exposure to arsenic, with a focus on protecting the very young, through developing regulations, action levels, and advice to consumers. Consumers can help protect themselves and their children from arsenic exposure by:
- Checking your well water,
- Eating a varied and nutritious diet,
- Learning about juice recommendations for children, and
- Getting strategies for rice and infant rice cereal.
For example, because rice tends to absorb arsenic more readily than other crops, parents are advised to feed infants and toddlers a variety of grains as part of a well-balanced diet. Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients for babies, but it shouldn’t be the only source and does not need to be the first source. Other iron fortified infant cereals include oat, barley and multigrain. In addition to being nutritious, they are similarly effective as rice for infants with esophageal reflux tendencies.
Resources from the FDA
- What You Can Do to Limit Exposure to Arsenic
- What You Can Do to Limit Exposure to Arsenic and Lead from Juices
- To Help Protect Children from Environmental Contaminants, Healthy Food Choices for Your Baby Aged 6-12 Months
- Bottled Water Everywhere: Keeping It Safe
- FDA Regulates the Safety of Bottled Water Beverages Including Flavored Water and Nutrient-Added Water Beverages
- Total Diet Study
Resources from Other Federal Government Agencies
- United States Environmental Protection Agency
- United States Environmental Protection Agency Drink Water Contaminants – Standards and Regulations
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Private Drinking Well Water Programs in Your State
- United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
- National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Arsenic is toxic to humans and can affect people of any age or health status. Current research indicates that inorganic arsenic is more dangerous and the associated health effects from exposure are more severe compared to organic arsenic. Organic arsenic compounds contain arsenic with carbon; and are not related to organic farming practices.
- The long-term adverse health effects from consuming food contaminated with arsenic vary depending on the amount consumed, length of time of exposure, age, and other exposures happening at the same time—either to arsenic from other sources, other contaminants, or to beneficial nutrients.
- Fetuses, infants, and children are particularly vulnerable to the potential harmful effects from arsenic exposure because of their smaller body sizes, metabolism, and rapid growth.
- Exposure to high levels of arsenic during times of active brain development is associated with adverse neurological effects such as learning disabilities, behavior difficulties, and lowered IQ.
- For adults, long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic has been associated with skin disorders and increased risks for skin, bladder, and lung cancers.
- For people of all ages, short-term exposure to very high amounts of inorganic arsenic can result in nausea, vomiting, bruising, and numbness or burning sensations in the hands and feet.
Some scientific studies have shown that two forms of organic arsenic found in certain foods, dimethylarsinic acid (DMA) and monomethylarsonic acid (MMA), may be a health concern. The FDA is monitoring emerging research on possible health risks from these forms of organic arsenic and will continue to monitor both inorganic and organic forms of arsenic in foods.
According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common source of high levels of inorganic arsenic is contaminated drinking water. To reduce health risks associated with arsenic exposure from drinking water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of arsenic in public drinking water at 10 parts per billion (ppb), and the FDA adopted this level for bottled water as well. Because private well water is not routinely tested by government agencies, people who get their water from private wells are advised to test for arsenic (and other contaminants) and contact their state drinking water well program if a problem is suspected.
The FDA tests food for arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury to monitor the safety of the U.S. food supply, enforce FDA regulations, and inform agency guidance to industry and advice to consumers. Testing may be targeted to a specific category of food, such as foods commonly eaten by children under 2 years of age, or to a specific food or food group. Testing may also be conducted in response to reports of elevated contaminant levels in certain foods. Testing may occur at FDA laboratories, laboratories we contract with, or at state laboratories as part of our cooperative agreement with states.
The FDA tests for total arsenic levels in foods. If needed, the FDA can further test samples to determine the levels of organic and inorganic arsenic species. The FDA tests for arsenic through:
- the Total Diet Study;
- the FDA’s Toxic Elements in Food and Foodware, and Radionuclides in Food compliance program; and
- Other surveys, which may be conducted annually or in response to reports of elevated contaminant levels in certain products or to focus on a specific food or food group.
In addition, the FDA has been conducting research to optimize testing methods to measure increasingly smaller amounts of these environmental contaminants.
Scientific Articles and Reports
Articles and reports authored by FDA researchers.
- A survey of toxic elements in ready to eat baby foods in the US market 2021 (2022)
- FDA Total Diet Study (TDS) FY2018-FY2020 Elements Report and Data (2022)
- Arsenic Species in Seaweeds Commercially Available in the United States (2021)
- Market Basket Survey of Arsenic Species in the Top Ten Most Consumed Seafoods in the United States (2019)
- Speciation analysis of arsenic in seafood and seaweed: Part I—evaluation and optimization of methods (2018) and Speciation analysis of arsenic in seafood and seaweed: Part II—single laboratory validation of method (2018)
- Cooking rice in excess water reduces both arsenic and enriched vitamins in the cooked grain (2015)
Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products Sampling Results
The FDA monitors levels of arsenic in rice products because as rice plants grow, they absorb arsenic more readily than other food crops. Rice and rice products are also a highly consumed food worldwide. Therefore, because of the plant itself and its popularity, it is a leading food source of inorganic arsenic. The data in the tables below helped to inform FDA’s action levels for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal.
- Analytical Results: Testing for Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereal for Infants - PDF, in XLSX
Posted March 2020
- Analytical Results from Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereals for Infants, Non-rice Infant Cereal and Other Foods Commonly Eaten by Infants and Toddlers - PDF, in XLSX
Posted April 2016
- Analytical Results from Inorganic Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products Sampling - PDF
Posted September 2013
Arsenic in Apple Juice Sampling Results
The FDA has conducted routine surveillance for arsenic in apple juice for many years and found that apple juice generally has low levels of inorganic arsenic. If samples have more than 10 parts per billion total arsenic, the FDA’s draft level for inorganic arsenic in apple juice, the agency further analyzes the samples to determine if the amount of inorganic arsenic presents a health concern. Following the release of FDA’s draft guidance in 2013, the agency has continued to monitor arsenic in apple juice, as shown in the data tables below.
- Analytical Results for Total Arsenic in Single-Strength Apple Juice-TEP (FY2013-FY2022)
Posted December 2022
- Speciation Results from Arsenic Analysis in Single-Strength Apple Juice -TEP (FY2013-FY2022)
Posted December 2022
- Analytical Results of Arsenic in Single-Strength Apple Juice - 2011 (ORA Sampling Assignment 2011102701)
Posted December 2011
- Analytical Results for Arsenic in Apple Juice - 2005-2011
Updated December 2011
- Analytical Results Arsenic in Pear Juice - 2005-2011
Updated February 14, 2012
Arsenic in Food Intended for Babies and Young Children Sampling Results
The FDA has conducted routine surveillance and targeted surveys for arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury in foods, including those commonly consumed by babies and children under 2 years of age. Data on lead in the table below helped to inform the FDA’s action levels for lead in foods intended for babies and young children and were posted when the FDA issued draft guidance to industry. Data on arsenic, cadmium, and mercury will help inform the development of action levels.
- Analytical Results for Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury in Foods Intended for Babies and Young Children- TEP (FY2008-FY2021) in PDF, in XLSX
Sampled under the FDA’s Toxic Elements in Food and Foodware, and Radionuclides in Food – Import and Domestic Compliance Program, Posted March 2023
The FDA has regulations requiring industry to meet certain safety guidelines. It is the legal responsibility of companies that produce and grow foods and manufacture products that are sold in the U.S. and intended for food use to comply with FDA regulations and with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, to ensure they are safe. The FDA issues guidance to industry to help them meet their legal responsibility.
Arsenic, if present in food, is a contaminant. There are no FDA authorized uses of arsenic as a color additive or food additive.
For some contaminants, the FDA has issued guidance to industry on action levels when a certain level of a contaminant is unavoidable. Guidance on action levels informs industry on the levels of contamination at or above which the FDA may regard certain foods as adulterated (i.e., that it violates the law). Action levels do not establish a permissible level of contamination. If the agency finds that the level of a contaminant may cause a food to be unsafe, we take action, which may include working with the manufacturer to resolve the issue and taking action to prevent the product from entering, or remaining in, the U.S. market.
Bottled Water Regulation
The FDA, through its regulatory authority under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, limits the level of arsenic (as well as other contaminants) in bottled water by establishing allowable levels in the quality standard for bottled water. For arsenic, this level is set to 10ppb, the same amount allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for public drinking water.
Infant Rice Cereal Action Level
The FDA issued guidance to industry to not exceed inorganic arsenic levels of 100 ppb in infant rice cereal. As part of its analysis to support this action level, the FDA conducted a risk assessment and determined that establishing an action level of 100 ppb could reduce the mean concentration of inorganic arsenic in brown-rice infant cereals from 119.0 ppb to 79.0 ppb and in white-rice infant cereals from 103.9 to 83.5 ppb.
For more on the FDA’s current guidance to industry on action levels for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal and related documents, please see:
- Guidance for Industry: Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereals for Infants August 2020
- Supporting Document for Action Level for Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereals for Infants August 2020
- Constituent Update: FDA Issues Final Guidance for Industry on Action Level for Inorganic Arsenic in Infant Rice Cereals August 2020
- Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products Risk Assessment March 2016
Apple Juice Action Level
Apple juice is the most popular juice given to young children in the U.S. and is a source of exposure to inorganic arsenic. In 2013, the FDA provided a draft action level of 10 parts per billion (ppb) of inorganic arsenic in single-strength (ready to drink) apple juices.
- Draft Guidance for Industry: Action Level for Arsenic in Apple Juice July 2013
- Supporting Document for Action Level for Arsenic in Apple Juice July 2013
- Quantitative Assessment of Inorganic Arsenic in Apple Juice July 2013
- Peer Review Report on the Risk Assessment of Arsenic in Apple Juice December 2012
Import Alerts and Enforcement
The FDA has issued Import Alerts for certain foods that may pose an increased risk for arsenic exposure. The FDA has issued import alerts that provide information about certain products that may be detained without physical examination based on their history of high arsenic levels.
To view recent Import Alerts for arsenic, please see:
International Scientific Activities
FDA experts participate in the international standard-setting body, Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex). The purpose of Codex is to protect the health of consumers and promote fair trade practices by adopting scientifically based standards, guidelines, and codes of practice across all areas of food safety and quality. Its work includes reviewing the scientific data concerning contaminant levels in foods. These international discussions can lead to recommendations for standards individual countries may adopt and codes of practice, such as the Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Arsenic Contamination in Rice, to prevent or reduce the presence of contaminants in food.
Code of Federal Regulations
21 CFR Part 165.110 - Bottled Water
Guidance for Industry by Date Issued