Testing Shows High Levels of Lead in Cassava-Based Veggie Puffs for Kids

Lesser Evil’s snack puffs have the highest lead content out of 80 baby foods Consumer Reports has tested since 2017.

Lead Snack Puffs Consumer Reports
Lesser Evil and Serenity Kids snack puffs for toddlers. All four cassava-based products were tested for lead levels by Consumer Reports.
Scott Meadows/Consumer Reports

Last December, we reported that lead levels in cinnamon added to applesauce pouches were high enough to sicken nearly 70 kids under the age of 6 that consumed the products. The FDA traced the cinnamon and corresponding lead back to the cinnamon supplier in Ecuador, and has indicated there may have been an attempt at food fraud by adding lead to cinnamon to increase its overall weight for sale in the marketplace.

No such schemes were at the root of recent testing by Consumer Reports (CR) of six snack puff products aimed at toddlers. Four of the products use organic cassava root as the main ingredient, and that’s likely where the lead levels originated in those items, according to CR.

It was noted in CR’s story that lead in soil can occur naturally or be a byproduct of pollution. Either way, root vegetables like cassava that are possibly grown in high-lead environments, can absorb the heavy metal, retaining it to the final product. Processing contaminated root vegetables into flour can also potentially concentrate the lead content compared to eating the vegetables raw or fresh.

   FDA warns cinnamon companies to implement food safety controls

CR tested three brands of snack puffs—six products total—for lead content. Since there are no federal guidelines for lead content in food (yet), CR used California’s maximum allowable dose level (MADL) scale, in order to assess comparative levels of lead per serving. This wasn’t to assess whether a product exceeds California’s or any other entity’s lead limits, according to CR, it’s just to indicate which products contain higher levels of lead.

Here is what CR found:

  • Lesser Evil - Lil’ Puffs Intergalactic Voyage Veggie Blend: 112% of MADL
  • Lesser Evil - Lil’ Puffs Sweet Potato Apple Asteroid: 60% of MADL
  • Serenity Kids - Grain-Free Puffs, Tomato & Herbs, Bone Broth: 53% MADL
  • Serenity Kids - Grain Free Puffs, Carrot & Beet: 17% of MADL
  • Once Upon a Farm - Organic Fruit & Veggie Puffs, Apple, Sweet Potato & Coconut: 6% of MADL
  • Once Upon a Farm - Organic Fruit & Veggie Puffs, Mango, Carrot & Coconut: 3% of MADL

CR highlighted Lesser Evil’s Lil’ Puffs Intergalactic Voyager Veggie Blend as having more lead per serving than any of the 80 baby foods CR has tested since 2017. While the first four products on the list use organic cassava flour as their main ingredient, the Once Upon a Farm puffs use organic sorghum flour as their main ingredient.

Cassava root leadCassava root in its raw state.Getty

CR reached out to all three brands about the test results. Lesser Evil and Serenity Kids responded that they regularly test their raw ingredients and finished products for heavy metals, and they stand behind the safety of their foods. They also mentioned that while they work with their suppliers for safe raw ingredients, they acknowledge that heavy metals are a part of today’s food system due to many years of soil and water contamination and pollution in our environment.  

Once Upon a Farm replied that they use sorghum as the main ingredient in their puffs, since it is less likely to carry heavy metals than rice or cassava. Emily Luna, baby brand manager at Once Upon a Farm, told CR that reducing heavy metals in foods is dependent on sourcing strategies. When the company needs ingredients like carrots or sweet potatoes that can potentially have high heavy metal content, the brand aims to source “ingredients from areas worldwide that have reduced risk.”

Having multiple ingredient sources is good advice for food processors looking to avoid high heavy metal content in their products. Easier said than done though, since there’s no guarantee that any supplier will deliver contaminant-free ingredients. However, having multiple options can allow a manufacturer to test and compare the same ingredients side-by-side and choose the safest one, rather than simply picking the vendor with the lowest price.

CR queried the FDA about mandating lead limits in baby food, and the agency responded it will finalize that along with lead in fruit juices in 2025. The FDA is still deciding how to regulate heavy metals in snack foods though, but in the meantime, it has the authority to penalize manufacturers selling products with high lead levels. 

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