(NaturalNews) If you enjoy a little extra spice on those enchiladas or flavor with those tortilla chips, you may want to practice more caution when purchasing salsas and hot sauces originating from Mexico. A new study out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) recently found that at least four popular Mexican brands of both hot sauce and salsa contain noticeably detectable levels of lead, a known neurotoxin, that in some cases exceed regulatory maximums for other foods.
For their study, UNLV researchers purchased 25 brands of imported hot sauce and salsa from local ethnic markets, grocery stores, and flea markets throughout the area. Each of the bottles was shaken for 60 seconds and analyzed for lead concentrations and pH levels. The team also tested the bottles and labels themselves for lead content, as food packaging has been known to leech lead and other chemicals into food.
Based on its analysis, the UNLV team learned that about 16 percent of the hot sauces and salsas contained more than 0.1 parts per million (ppm) of lead, which is the maximum upper limit established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for candies -- the agency has not yet established a maximum upper limit for lead in salsas and hot sauces.
According to the data, which was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part B, the four offending salsas and hot sauces that tested for more than 0.1 ppm of lead, each of which is produced by a different manufacturer, include:
• El Pato Salsa Picante, manufactured by Walker Foods, 0.23 ppm lead • Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero, manufactured by El Yucateco, 0.21 ppm lead • Bufalo Salsa Clasica, manufactured by Herdez, 0.17 ppm lead • Salsa Habanero, manufactured by Salsas Castillo, 0.14 ppm lead
Also included as an offender was El Yucateco's Caribbean Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero, which tested in just below the threshold at 0.091 ppm lead.
No amount of lead is safe; these were just the worst offenders
Several years ago, the same UNLV researchers had discovered what was later determined to be unsafe levels of lead in spicy candies imported from Mexico, which is what prompted them to begin studying other foods like salsas and hot sauces. Back in 2006, according to reports, officials actually pulled the tainted candy from store shelves because of the study's findings, and the FDA later established a 0.1 ppm maximum contamination level for lead in candy.
But the agency did not apply this same limit to other foods like salsas and hot sauces, which may also be a health threat. Though there is technically no safe level of lead in food, a general threshold of 0.1 ppm or even lower seems reasonable to apply all across the board to protect the public against possible brain or other neurological damage. Children, as you may well know, are most susceptible to harm caused by lead poisoning.
"The results indicate the need for more rigorous screening protocols for products imported from Mexico, including an applicable standard for hot sauce," says Shawn Gerstenberger, one of the study's main authors. "Without enforceable standards for hot sauces and condiments, manufacturers will not be encouraged to improve quality control measures designed to reduce the amounts of lead and other toxic elements before exporting."
Gerstenberger and his colleagues are pushing for both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish an array of new chemical safety standards for food, including a 0.1 ppm maximum level of lead for hot sauces. These same agencies are being urged to enforce existing safety standards which some food manufacturers continue to violate without penalty.