Skip to main content

Home / Blog / What chemical contaminants should food producers and brands be most concerned with?

What chemical contaminants should food producers and brands be most concerned with?

Every food brand and producer wants to feed their customers food that’s tasty, delightful, and safe. 
However, food contaminants can make this difficult to achieve.

With nearly everything from fresh strawberries and lettuce to cupcakes and chocolate, food producers face the risk of distributing contaminated food that could harm their brand image and customers. 

Avoiding these devastating pitfalls requires two things—understanding which contaminants to look for and knowing what types of tests you need to ensure those contaminants don’t end up in your food. 

Read on to find out more.

Why are food contaminants so prevalent?

Even for the most careful food producers with the highest safety standards, food contaminants—both biological and chemical—pose a constant risk.

Besides being super difficult to detect unless using rigorous testing, the chemical contaminants listed below pose such a constant threat to human health due to their prevalence in industry and the environment. 

Heavy metals like mercury and antimony have been widely used in industrial settings for hundreds of years. The burning of coal and other fossil fuels also releases these contaminants into the air, water, and soil where they’re inevitably soaked up, inhaled, or consumed by plants, animals, and humans. 

As wild as it is to comprehend, manufacturers have even used some of these contaminants to create food packaging. Antimony, for instance, can be found in plastic bottles and packaging used to contain food and beverages. 

Other contaminants, such as pesticides, see wide use in agriculture around the world. Different crops and growing conditions require different pesticides with multiple applications occurring in the same year. It’s no wonder then that many of these chemicals end up in our food. 

So, which contaminants should food producers watch out (and test) for? The list below sheds some light on that question. 

What food contaminants should brands be most aware of?

While there are many types of biological contaminants, the list below highlights the chemical contaminants that often end up in food products. 

  • Acrylamide: This likely human carcinogen—a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue—forms when starchy or high carbohydrate foods get cooked at high temperatures (such as temperatures used during baking, frying, or roasting). Specific regulations require food producers to test for acrylamide to ensure food safety and accurate labeling.
  • Heavy Metals: These materials—most notably mercury, lead, cadmium, nickel, and zinc—contaminate food through various sources, such as soil (in the case of plants) and seawater (in the case of fish). Heavy metals pose a high risk to humans because they are not chemically or biologically degradable.
  • Gluten/Gliadin: This protein derives from wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. An increasing number of consumers find gluten intolerable to various degrees. In severe cases, such as with individuals experiencing Celiac disease, gluten can cause severe allergic reactions and lead to further, long-term health complications. 
  • Pesticide residue: Various foods ranging from fresh fruit and vegetables to baking mixes, dried beans, and pasta can contain trace amounts of agricultural pesticides. While pesticides affect insects much more than humans, these low-level neurotoxins still threaten human health, especially when trace levels become elevated. 

What risks do food contaminants pose to consumers?

While every living person faces health risks from consuming contaminated food, children and infants face elevated levels of risk. 

Eating food that contains high levels of contaminants can result in acute toxicity, which is an emergency-grade poisoning that can take place following multiple or even a single exposure to contaminants (like those listed above) during a short period.  

Food contaminants can even result in hundreds of severe long-term health conditions, including cancer and heart disease.

Risks of antimony

While antimony has its uses in industry and even medicine (as a treatment for certain parasites), it can cause health issues when consumed through contaminated food. 

If exposed to elevated levels of antimony, humans can experience a range of unpleasant side effects, including joint and muscle pain, heart problems, vomiting, and nausea. 

Consuming antimony can also lead people to experience heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, and stomach ulcers.

Plastics, such as those used in water bottles or food packaging, have been known to contain this element in specific doses, which can then leach into food and beverages. 

Risks of acrylamide

In 2010, researchers with the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) discovered that acrylamide causes harm to human health. 

In conjunction with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), researchers concluded that acrylamide causes cancer in animals exposed to very high doses of the substance, suggesting acrylamide also poses a risk to human health as well.

Risks of gluten/gliadin

For most people, gluten poses no real threat to their health. However, individuals with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances can experience health consequences that range from mild to severe as a result of consuming foods that contain gluten. 

Celiac disease—one of the most prevalent and severe forms of gluten intolerance—affects as many as two million people in the United States and about one percent of the overall world population. 

Symptoms of celiac disease include nausea, diarrhea, bloating, skin rashes, headaches, and even damage to the intestines. 

Risks of pesticides

According to the World Health Organization, pesticides present in foods can lead to several negative health outcomes, including cancer and damage to the immune, nervous, and reproductive systems. 

While trace amounts of pesticides can be tolerable, pesticides that accumulate in the body over time are likely to lead to long term health risks. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pesticides like the organophosphates and carbamates can impact the nervous system. Some pesticides are likely to increase the risk of cancer as carcinogens or negatively impact the hormone or endocrine systems.

Risks of heavy metals

Heavy metals can harm brain development in children even before they’re born. And heavy metals have also been discovered to contribute to heart disease in adults as well. 

In the short term, exposure to heavy metals can lead to a variety of severe symptoms, including numbness, brain fog, tingling hands and feet, memory problems, lack of coordination, constant fatigue, depression, weakness, and joint pain, in addition to several other side effects. 

And since humans can’t taste, smell, or see the contaminants identified earlier, the only accurate way to detect these materials is through rigorous testing.
Luckily, that’s where Medallion Labs can help.

Accurate food contaminant testing for an affordable price

Despite the prevalence and constant risk that food contaminants pose, food producers and brands don’t need to worry about exposing their customers to these materials thanks to simple, affordable testing from Medallion Labs

Whether you need to know levels of contaminants in order to apply special labeling, meet a regulation, or simply keep your customers safe, Medallion Labs offers testing for acrylamide, antimony, heavy metals, gluten, and pesticides.

Take the next step and discover how Medallion Labs can help you test for these contaminants and get your products safely onto shelves and into the shopping carts of grateful customers. 

Let's Get to Work!

Submit your order online and ship your samples today. If you have questions, we are always here to help.

Medallion Labs+

A food testing program designed with mid-market and enterprise food and ingredient manufacturers in mind.