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Ginger candies found with high levels of lead

Myscha Theriault/Creative Commons

The Anhing Corporation, a Los Angeles-based distributor of Asian foods, prides itself on its relations with hundreds of suppliers in dozens of countries throughout Southeast Asia and South America and a sales network that stretches from Guam to Florida.

But last week, after randomly testing some of the company's candy, the California Department of Public Health discovered it was distributing ginger candies tainted with lead.

The candy, manufactured by DaiJyoBu, a company based in China, is one of 3,000 products the Anhing Corporation distributes. This is the first time the manufacturer or the company have been written up for lead-containing candy, said Ken August, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health.

The agency confirmed the test results on Thursday. August said the candy at the site was either destroyed on the scene under department supervision or placed under embargo. The distributor is required to issue a news release but it hasn't yet. 

In 2005, the state passed Assembly Bill 121, or the Lead in Candy Program, and the department has since been responsible for randomly collecting and testing candy samples. Every year, it tests thousands [PDF] of candy products in California. This year, six candies have been recalled [PDF] for high lead levels in the state.

The Anhing Corporation responded to the news from the department by voluntarily recalling the candy. August said the company has not had time to investigate the source of the lead contamination. Anhing Corporation managers were not available for comment. 

Anhing Corporation has notified the stores that carry the product, August said. There are more than 100 of those stores in the state, some of which received shipments of the ginger product as recently as early last week, according to a file from the Public Health Department. The other 100 stores are outside the state. The majority of the stores that receive the product from Anhing Corporation are Asian markets.

“All the stores that carry the product are sent a notice,” said Ralph Montano, another department spokesperson. “It's up to the person who owns the store to pull it off the shelves.”

The stores are not required to put up signs in the store alerting shoppers to the lead-containing candy, said August. Local health departments that have one of the candy-carrying stores in their jurisdiction are responsible for following up with the stores and doing compliance checks. 

If the lead-carrying candy is distributed outside of California, said August, the department of health notifies the US Food and Drug Administration. Anhing Corporation distributes the ginger candy to stores in over 20 states in the U.S.

Each bag of DaiJyoBu ginger candy holds 12 pieces of foil-wrapped candy, according to an Associated Press article. They come in a cellophane bag with a drawing of a sprouting ginger root, and they weigh about six ounces. The manufacturer also makes rice crackers and other snack foods. 

In English, the word daijyobu, according to information on the manufacturer's trademark registry, means safe, secure, free from danger. 

Caroline Cox, research director with the Center for Environmental Health, said the Lead in Candy Program sprang up out of increased incidents of lead discovered in Mexican candies, particularly those made of tamarind and chili powder. 

The lead was coming from a variety of sources: the ink in the candy wrappers, the glaze in some containers, and unwashed chili peppers that had accumulated lead dust in the fields.

In 2006, the attorney general and groups like the Center for Environmental Health reached a settlement with Hershey and Mars subsidiaries that set new standards for candy manufacturers.

The companies were required to pay nearly $1 million in settlement fees. Part of those fees went toward funding programs to educate consumers about issues related to lead poisoning, and to provide lead testing services and audits for candy manufacturers.

In 1997, out of the fewer than 25,000 children tested for lead exposure, 18 percent had elevated levels. In 2005, after the Lead in Candy Program was passed, more than half a million children were tested and about one percent had elevated levels of lead in their blood.



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