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How to avoid processed baby foods and accompanying heavy metals

– OPINION –

By Jenny Shell

On Feb. 4, 2021, the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy released a report detailing its findings and concerns about the presence of heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, in baby foods. Exposure to these metals in infancy has been linked to adverse neurological effects. The Subcommittee reached out to seven baby food manufacturers, four of whom responded to the inquiry. These are brands Americans know and love: Gerber, Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best Organic (Hain), and Happy Family Organics (Nurture).

The gist of the report is that the heavy metals testing performed by these companies on baby food does not accurately reflect the amount of heavy metals in finished baby food products because of corporate policies to test only ingredients rather than the final product.

These companies have knowingly placed baby food products on the shelves that have unreasonably high levels of heavy metals, in some cases even violating their own internal standards on limits for heavy metals. You can read the Subcommittee’s initial report here 

On Sept. 29, 2021, the Subcommittee released an updated report that included responses from the three manufacturers that had not initially responded to the Subcommittee’s inquiries: Walmart, Plum Organics (Campbell), and Sprout Organic Foods. The major findings confirmed that these manufacturers only test the ingredients, not the final products, for heavy metals, which leads to an underestimate of the true level of heavy metals in the finished baby food products. You can read the supplemental report here 

My daughter was born around the time the Subcommittee issued their first report. One thing that really stood out to me were the particularly high levels of arsenic in processed rice products: cereal, puffs, etc. Rather than give her processed baby foods, I searched for alternatives. Here are a few quick workarounds I came up with:

  • Replace rice baby cereal with regular oatmeal;
  • Replace rice puffs with Cheerios or similar cereal;
  • Pureeing foods, like potatoes, peas, beans or sweet potatoes in bulk, then freezing the puree in ice cube trays. Voila, individual servings of unprocessed baby food;
  • Mashed up avocado and banana are just as portable as canned baby food;
  • No juice or other drinks, just water and milk;
  • Regular basmati rice made at home; and
  • Much of your normal dinner food can be mashed up right at the table for baby.

The above tips are only a few suggestions for avoiding processed baby foods. Plenty of parenting sites also offer tips for making your own baby foods. It’s time to get creative.

About the author: Jenny Shell has worked at the Seattle law firm of Marler Clark LLP since August 2018, where she represents victims of foodborne illness outbreaks across the country. Her work includes conducting discovery, litigation strategy, drafting pleadings, motions, and demand letters, and resolving clients’ claims through mediations and informal settlement negotiations. She is fluent in Spanish and often handles or assists with cases of Marler Clark’s Spanish-speaking clients.

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