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Popular baby cereal recalled due to arsenic levels

A test sample from the production lot of the cereal found higher-than-acceptable levels of inorganic arsenic present.
"The safety of infants and children is Beech-Nut's top priority," said Jason Jacobs, vice president of food safety and quality, in a statement.
"The safety of infants and children is Beech-Nut's top priority," said Jason Jacobs, vice president of food safety and quality, in a statement.fda.gov

Beech-Nut Nutrition announced Tuesday that they are issuing a voluntary recall for one lot of their Beech-Nut Stage 1 Single Grain Rice Cereal and discontinuing the product going forward.

The recall, which affects cereals with the product codes of 103470XXXX and 093470XXXX and an expiration date of May 1, 2022, was issued after a routine sampling program found that samples from the production lot of the cereal "tested above the guidance level for naturally occurring inorganic arsenic" as set by the Food and Drug Administration in August 2020. The rice flour used in the cereal itself has been tested and confirmed as being below the FDA guidance levels.

So far, no illnesses associated with the recall have been reported. No other production dates or Beech-Nut products have been affected by the recall.

The affected products were distributed nationally, according to a recall notice, both in stores and online. Consumers with an affected item should discard the product and visit Beech-Nut Nutrition's website or call 1-866-272-9417, Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. for information about an exchange or refund.

Beech-Nut said in a statement that they have decided to stop producing the cereal going forward because they are concerned about "the ability to consistently obtain rice flour well-below FDA guidance level and Beech-Nut specifications for naturally occurring inorganic arsenic."

"The safety of infants and children is Beech-Nut's top priority," said Jason Jacobs, vice president of food safety and quality, in a statement.

What parents should know:

Dr. Miranda Hillard, a pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said that with "long-term exposure" to too much arsenic, pediatricians worry about "developmental concerns."

"That brain is just so rapidly differentiating and growing," she said, comparing arsenic to lead, which pediatricians regularly check for. While pediatricians do not check for arsenic in children, she said that too much of the compound can "wreak havoc (on) the development of a young child."

Trace elements of arsenic are widely present in the environment, including in water, soil and food. However, exposure to elevated levels of naturally occurring inorganic arsenic can pose a health hazard, especially to young children. Hillard said because of the way rice is grown, it may have higher levels of arsenic.

"I think most people know that rice grows in rice paddies, and so arsenic is a naturally occurring compound from the soil, so the way that rice is grown, it's more readily going to absorb the arsenic as compared to other grain crops that exist," Hillard said, noting that this affects both organic and non-organic products. "... It's really just the way that the rice crop is grown."

Hillard said that in general, she doesn't recommend rice cereals to parents of young children. Infants require 11 mg of iron per day, according to Hillard, and toddlers require 7 milligrams per day.

"There's just a tremendous need for iron, and that's why pediatricians recommend these iron-fortified cereals," she said, highlighting products like oatmeal, multigrain or quinoa cereals. "... I usually recommend the oatmeal cereal to families just because the fiber content is amazing ... In general, the rice cereal is not really, nutritionally, as big of a bang for your buck in comparison to some of the other infant cereals out there."

However, parents shouldn't excessively worry about the potential of arsenic overexposure, Hillard said.

"I think it's awesome that the FDA is putting limits on arsenic but I would really stress that I don't want parents to be scared," she said. "I usually urge my families to choose an oatmeal cereal, more for the whole grains and the fiber and some of those benefits without the risk. It's just important to make sure that families aren't terribly alarmed."