The only recalled product at this time is Beech-Nut Single Grain Rice item (UPC Code number 52200034705), which has an expiration date of 01MAY2022 and product codes 103470XXXX and 093470XXXX.
“Beech-Nut is concerned about the ability to consistently obtain rice flour well-below the FDA guidance level and Beech-Nut specifications for naturally occurring inorganic arsenic,” the FDA said.
In its announcement, the FDA quoted Jason Jacobs, Beech-Nut’s vice president of food safety and quality.
“The safety of infants and children is Beech-Nut’s top priority. We are issuing this voluntary recall, because we learned through routine sampling by the State of Alaska that a limited quantity of Beech-Nut Single Grain Rice Cereal products had levels of naturally-occurring inorganic arsenic above the FDA guidance level, even though the rice flour used to produce these products tested below the FDA guidance level for inorganic arsenic,” Jacobs said.
A growing concern over high arsenic levels
“To our knowledge, this is the first recall of infant rice cereal due to high arsenic levels,” said Jane Houlihan, research director for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a consumer advocacy group that studies the levels of toxic metals in baby foods.
“The FDA announcement of the recall is great news,” Houlihan said. “It’s so important for babies that this cereal not make it to market. We fully support FDA’s enforcement action to help reduce arsenic exposures for these little ones who are so vulnerable.”
Krishnamoorthi said the spreadsheets provided by manufacturers were “shocking,” because they showed evidence that some baby foods contain hundreds of parts per billion of dangerous metals.
“Yet we know that in a lot of cases, we should not have anything more than single-digit parts per billion of any of these metals in any of our foods,” he told CNN.
Whether the baby food was organic did not matter, the subcommittee found — levels of toxic metals were still high.
Arsenic is a natural element found in soil, water and air, with the inorganic form being the most toxic. (“Inorganic” is a chemical term and has nothing to do with the method of farming.)
If you think that unhulled brown or wild rice might be healthier choices, think again. They contain more arsenic than white rice, because the milling process used to create white rice removes the outer layers of the grain, where much of the arsenic is concentrated.
Arsenic is a known carcinogen that can influence the risk of cardiovascular, immune and other diseases, but it’s the impact on a developing baby’s brain that is most worrisome, experts say.
Because of these concerns, child safety advocates have been critical of the FDA’s cut off levels for arsenic in cereals, saying they are not low enough to adequately protect infants.
“In setting the action level that is driving the recall, FDA didn’t consider harm to infants’ developing brains and failed to account for children who eat more than average amounts of rice,” Houlihan said.
National diet surveys show that Hispanic infants and toddlers are 2.5 times more likely to eat rice on a given day than other children, according to Healthy Babies Bright Futures, while Asian Americans eat nearly 10 times more rice than the national average.
In addition, the group said, children diagnosed with celiac disease — an intolerance to wheat — often eat rice products instead and thus ingest some 14 times more arsenic than other children.
“The FDA should lower the allowable limit,” Houlihan said. “In the meantime, parents have options — other types of infant cereal have one-sixth as much arsenic as infant rice cereal, on average, and are safer choices.”