Frequently asked questions about children's foods

The Swedish National Food Agency Livsmedelsverket published on 23.1.2013 the results of a study regarding the levels of certain heavy metals and minerals in foods intended for children. The foodstuffs covered by the study included infant formulae and follow-on formulae, porridges, gruels as well as rice, oat and soy drinks, and foodstuffs intended for children with medical problems. The levels of heavy metals did not exceed the set maximum amounts. A versatile diet is the best way to avoid the adverse effects of any substances contained in foodstuffs.

1. Why do products contain heavy metals? 

Arsenic and cadmium are inherent in the soil and can move from the soil into plants. Fertilisers can also contain cadmium, which may be transferred into the crop plants. Lead is found naturally in air, soil and water, but also as an environmental toxin. This means that the raw materials of foods often contain heavy metals. Regulatory maximum amounts have been set for the heavy metal levels of foods in order to guarantee that the dietary exposure does not exceed a safe level.

2. My child has drunk a rice drink every day for several years. Should I be concerned? Should we stop to use the drink now?

You need not be concerned. However, it is advisable to ensure that your child follows a versatile diet. Due to their lower weight, young children are more susceptible to the adverse effects of heavy metals. For this reason, drinks other that those based on rice should be selected, as a rule, for children under 6 years of age. If the rice drink is part of your child's diet because of an allergy, consult your doctor and/or a nutritional therapist before making any changes in the child's diet. 

3. My child is allergic and cannot eat porridge and gruel made from ordinary cereals. What can I use instead of rice-based products?

Consult your doctor and/or nutritional therapist before making any changes in the child's diet. You do not need to stop the use of rice-based porridges and gruels completely, but it would be good to include also other alternatives in the diet, to the extent allowed by the child's allergies. Maize-based porridges and gruels offer one alternative.

4. Can my child eat normal rice?

Your child can eat normal rice. However, it is important to plan a versatile diet for the child according to the advice of the child health centre, with foods from different food groups (e.g. vegetables, berries and fruit, cereal and milk products, meat and fish, as well as edible fats). This is a good way to reduce the risk of an excessive intake of harmful substances. 

5. Is it better to eat home-made porridge or gruel?

Both home-made and commercial porridges and gruels can be eaten. Cereals may contain small amounts of harmful substances, which is why you should vary the cereal type.

6. Are there differences between organic and normal products? 

No. Heavy metals are found in both organic and normal products. 

7. Why do you not ban products that contain harmful substances such as heavy metals? 

Heavy metals cannot be completely eliminated from food, as they are found in small amounts e.g. in the soil and are then absorbed into plants from there. Maximum amounts have been set for the heavy metal levels of foods in order to guarantee that dietary exposure does not exceed a safe level. 

8. Do companies monitor mineral and heavy metal levels of their products on a regular basis as part of their in-house control?

Yes. The monitoring of the composition of the products is part of the operators' in-house control. Companies in the food industry have the responsibility for verifying that the product they manufacture, have manufactured or import is safe and fulfils also other regulatory requirements. Municipal health inspectors control that companies fulfil this responsibility. 

9. Do the study results published by the Swedish National Food Agency on 23.1.2013 provide new information?
Yes and no. The matter was brought up for the first time two years ago and the reduction of the levels has since been a topic of an active dialogue with manufacturers of children's foods. This new study provided further information about the levels of compounds in various products, and the results are well in agreement with the results previously obtained in Finland. A discussion on the maximum amounts is also ongoing in the European Commission.