By Rossany Auceda, Iowa Department of Health and Human Services

Food is an important part of any celebration in all countries of the world, regardless of culture or religion.

Special condiments and even vessels, plates, glasses, cutlery and make up are part of traditions.

The celebration, however, can turn into a concern when someone in the family gets sick. A few years ago, in central Iowa, several family members were lead-poisoned after consuming cooked beans and other foods. The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services investigated and concluded that the clay pot where the family cooked beans and other foods contained lead. This vessel was brought to the family by a relative from their native country.


Just as these artifacts can be a health risk, the family can also be exposed to lead through the consumption of condiments, medicines, supplements, and even makeup made outside the United States, where food control is minimal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the presence of lead in spices such as turmeric. This spice is advertised as a super food that can fight cancer, ease depression, and more.  Even though this is a common spice in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, other populations are getting products, like this, through the internet.

In addition, certain candy ingredients, such as chili powder and tamarind, might be a source of lead exposure. Lead can get into the candy when drying, storing, and grinding the ingredients improperly.

Greta and Azarcon (also known as alarcon, coral, luiga, maria luisa, or rueda) are traditional Hispanic medicines taken for an upset stomach (empacho), constipation, diarrhea, and vomiting. They are also used on teething babies. Greta and Azarcon are both fine orange powders with lead content as high as 90%, according to CDC.

If you think that you or your child has been exposed to lead in food, candy, spices, cosmetics, or traditional medicines, contact your healthcare provider. Most children and adults who are exposed to lead have no symptoms. The best way to tell if you or your child has been exposed is with a blood lead test. 

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