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BY KATE SHEEHY -- The chilies in your favorite hot sauce may give you more of a kick than you bargained for. A research team at the University of Nevada Las Vegas has found elevated levels of lead in several hot sauces imported from Mexico. Lead exposure can be dangerous-especially for children and pregnant women.
Jennifer Berger and her research partner at UNLV found that four out of twenty-five bottles of hot sauce tested had lead contaminants. She says a 2006 recall of Mexican-style candies made the researchers question hot sauce as well.
“They have very common ingredients, the chili and the salt, which is where we suspect some of the lead contamination comes from,” says Berger.
Lead exposure can slow the mental development of a child and cause learning disabilities. Berger wants the Food and Drug Administration to apply the same standards to hot sauce that they currently use for candy.
“We realize that hot sauce is not as highly consumed by children, but that would be this a safeguard,” she says.
The hot sauce brands found with lead levels that exceeded the candy standard are: Salsa Habanera, El Pato, Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero, and Búfalo Salsa Clasica.
Meanwhile, at some Las Vegas groceries, hot sauce sales are as strong as ever. Tina Angel shops at Mariana’s Latin Market on Sahara Boulevard.
“I heard on the news that some Mexican hot sauces have lead, and we have eaten them. Actually, I still have them in the fridge. I haven’t thrown them out yet. But now I’ll make my own hot sauce for the family,” she says.
The FDA declined to go on tape for this story, but has said they will review the study and consider future actions. Only one distributor so far, Los Angeles-based Walker Foods Inc., has announced it will stop distributing the hot sauce El Pato, in response to the UNLV study.
But Robert Walker, CEO of Walker foods, says the hot sauce is safe and has not been linked to any health concerns. Walker told NBC4 in Los Angeles that he disputes the study's findings. “(The study only lists) the lead content of one sample, not the average,” Walker said. “They only took the absolute worst, extreme sample.”