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DHS news release

April 16, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180
Technical contact: Richard Leiker (503) 731-4025

Consumer advisory: Mexican candy may contain high levels of lead

Chaca-chaca candy bar

Public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) recommend that consumers, particularly young children and pregnant women, avoid eating Mexican candy products that contain chili powder which may be contaminated with lead.

The warning was prompted by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announcement last week that certain imported Mexican chili-based candy may have high lead levels, and by follow-up testing in Oregon.

"Lead has a toxic effect on humans," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist in DHS. "We are particularly concerned about infants, young children and pregnant women who may be eating these candies, because lead exposure can result in a lifetime of learning disabilities and behavioral disorders."

Lead contamination has specifically been detected in Chaca-Chaca, a chili-based candy imported from Mexico. Oregon laboratory tests show the candy contains as much as 0.15 parts per million of lead.

"This means that a child who eats only one piece of this candy would be getting more than 5 micrograms of lead," Kohn said. "The FDA has recommended that children under age six should consume no more than 6 micrograms of lead in one day from all food sources. Adults can also be harmed by eating large quantities of this candy."

"Lead is not a normal ingredient in food," Kohn adds. "Any food item contaminated with lead should be avoided. These lead-contaminated candies are only one of many potential sources of lead poisoning a child may be exposed to each day, including dust from lead-based paint."

Chaca-Chaca is a brownish-red colored fruit pulp bar that is coated with salt and chili powder. It is sold in packages of small individually wrapped strips that often contain a picture of a locomotive on the wrapper. The candy can be found primarily in Mexican grocery stories, Kohn said.

A photograph of the Chaca-Chaca bar tested in Oregon is included with this news release. Other products identified by FDA include lollipops coated with chili and powdery mixtures of salt, lemon flavor and chili seasoning.

Pregnant women and parents of children who may have eaten Chaca-Chaca should talk to their health care provider. "They may need to have a medical test to determine the level of lead in their blood," Kohn said.

Information about lead poisoning prevention is available on the Web, by calling the free LeadLine at (800) 368-5060 or by calling the Oregon Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at (503) 731-4025.