In the last decade, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued several warnings and recalls for food products that exceed FDA standards for lead. Products containing chili peppers and salt were often suspected as sources of lead contamination, and included items such as candy that are routinely investigated. However, products such as hot sauces that contain similar ingredients have not been the focus of evaluations. This study quantified lead concentrations in imported hot sauces, evaluated product compliance to existing United States standards, and calculated potential dietary lead exposure for children using the Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic Model. Finally, recommendations for reducing the risk of lead exposure from hot sauces are provided. Twenty-five (25) bottles of imported hot sauces manufactured in Mexico and South America were purchased in Clark County, Nevada. All hot sauces were analyzed for lead concentrations, pH, and leaded packaging. Hot sauces were analyzed by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and packaging was analyzed using x-ray fluorescence technology. Four brands of hot sauces (16%) exceeded 0.1 ppm lead, the current FDA action level for lead in candy. Hot sauces with lead concentrations >0.1 ppm lead contained salt and were manufactured in Mexico. Subsequent analysis of additional lots of hot sauces exceeding 0.1 ppm lead revealed inconsistent lead concentrations between and within manufacturer lots. The lead concentrations of the plastic hot sauce lids ranged from below the limit of detection to 2, 028 ppm lead. There was no association between lead concentrations in hot sauces and pepper type. These results indicate the need for more rigorous screening protocols for products imported from Mexico, the establishment of an applicable standard for hot sauce, and resources to allow for the enforcement of existing food safety policies. The data reported herein represent the first known investigation of lead concentrations in hot sauces.
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