Should We Be Concerned About Cadmium?
Information is starting to be propagated throughout the internet about the presence of cadmium in chocolate. I even read somewhere of a lawsuit launched again Hershey's claiming a person ate a few squares of chocolate and got cadmium poisoning. There are a lot of "Chicken Little's" in the world who take some misinformation, blow it out of proportion and then write some article about it in order to get likes, followers, and in general "eyeballs" that make them money.
"Follow the money." has never been so prevalent than in today's Age of Mis-Information. It's real hard to figure out what to believe and not believe online today.
For those of you who don't know about my company and its history, dig around a bit and you'll find out that I'm all about transparency. I unapologetically call bullshit when I see it. When I do, I am sure to back up my big mouth with irrefutable facts. That being said I am going to address the topic of cadmium as it relates to chocolate, and I hope by the end of this article you will be better informed and a lot less worried.
WHAT IS CADMIUM AND WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Cadmium is a naturally occurring element that exists literally everywhere on Earth. It can be found in soil, water, and air and is often present in small amounts in many foods we eat such as seeds, grains and fruits. Higher concentrations can be found in stems, leaves, roots, and tubers. Believe it or not high cadmium accumulators include lettuce, spinach, cabbage, some varieties of potatoes, carrots, beets, eggplants, and peas. ...and of course the cocoa beans used to make chocolate.
Very small amounts of cadmium are not generally harmful to human health. However long-term exposure to high levels of cadmium can cause the serious health problems the online Chicken Little's are crying about. The World Health Organization recommends limiting intake of cadmium to minimize the risk of adverse health effects.
While there are currently no federal standards in the US or Canada for cadmium levels in vegetables, the European Union limits cadmium in vegetables and fruit to 0.05 mg/kg consumed, with the exceptions of stem and root vegetables, which have a limit of 0.10 mg/kg consumed, and leafy vegetables and herbs, which have a limit of 0.20 mg/kg consumed.
For clarity, one milligram (mg) is one millionth of a kilogram (kg). One milligram per kilogram is also the same as one part per million (PPM).
WHAT ABOUT CHOCOLATE? WHAT'S SAFE AND WHAT'S NOT?
As a manufacturer of chocolate and confections here in Canada in both the heavily regulated legal cannabis space and also the conventional confectionary market my business under a microscope. We are governed by the Food and Drugs Act, the Safe Food For Canadians Act, and many others. The Food and Drugs Act is the strictest and defines the pharmacopeia (Schedule B to be exact) we are required to use when testing our chocolate products for contaminants. Naturally we picked one of the most stringent. I mean... why make things easy on ourselves, right? (insert sarcastic laugh here). We chose to use European Pharmacopeia (EP) reference manual. Section 2.4.27 of that manual defines thresholds of cadmium in chocolate. The reason we chose EP is that the European Union is very strict, and is the highest geographic consumption area of chocolate in the world. If there was a region of the world where cadmium would be regulated it would be (and is) Europe. Currently in Canada and the US, there is no hard fast rule with respect to concentrations of cadmium in chocolate - more like "rules of thumb". California has defined their own standards, but they're out to lunch. If chocolate companies used California standards there would be literally no chocolate in that state!
That being said EP rule 2.4.27 states that levels of cadmium in chocolate can go as high as 0.8 mg/kg or 0.8 PPM, depending on the intensity of the cocoa content in the chocolate itself. The darker the chocolate, the higher the threshold.
That can be a bit misleading though, because cocoa content in chocolate is defined as a combination of cocoa beans and cocoa butter (the fat from cocoa beans). For example, EP 2.4.27 states that chocolate with less than 30% cocoa should have no more than 0.1 mg/kg of cadmium. The problem is that chocolate needs at least 35% cocoa butter to be fluid enough for a chocolatier to work with it. This means that a milk chocolate bar right through a dark chocolate bar will be at least 60% total cocoa content, which means that the total cadmium content should be less than 0.8mg/kg of cadmium up to 80% cocoa content and no more than 1.0 mg/kg of cadmium for intensities above 80%. Cocoa powder, which is essentially the roasted and crushed cocoa beans with most of the fat removed, sits at a threshold of approximately 0.6mg/kg threshold.
SO... WHAT'S SAFE?
In a nutshell, if the cadmium level in the chocolate you eat (even if you can find the info) is less than 0.8 milligram per kilogram of chocolate (0.8 PPM) according to the strictest pharmacopeia defined in Canada's Food And Drug Act, you're probably not going to glow at night.
Furthermore, if either the FDA or Health Canada thought that cadmium was cause for concern, they would have had manufacturers like us add some type of warning to the labels of products years ago. Simply put: Cadmium content in chocolate is not that big of a concern to anyone other than the people looking for followers on social media. Yes there are chocolate bars out there which have higher cadmium content, and it's most likely that the cocoa beans they sourced grew in volcanic soil somewhere. Lots of cocoa grows in volcanic soil. In fact a lot of the Amazon jungle grows in volcanic soil, and Brazil is one of the largest producers of cocoa in the world - home to the Amazon rain forest. Go figure.
WHAT ABOUT CHOKLAT'S CHOCOLATE?
How did I know you were going to ask that? Well, I am happy to share the average test results of all three of our chocolates - milk, dark and white.
|Averages By Type
|mg/kg or PPM
|% of Recommended Max In 1 kg
|EU 2.4.27 Threshold
|Choklat's Milk Chocolate
|Choklat's Dark Chocolate
|Choklat's White Chocolate
There are some important takeaway's here:
- Putting things into proper context is important: All of the measurements are based on one kilogram of chocolate. You need to eat a full kilogram of chocolate per day to hit the threshold. A. FULL. KILOGRAM. Based on the content of cadmium in our milk chocolate you would need to eat more than FIFTY of our milk chocolate bars or TWENTY FIVE of our dark chocolate bars in a single sitting to reach your daily cadmium threshold. Now that's something I would like to see! Well... Now that I think of it, I probably wouldn't.
- If you're worried about cadmium you'd better polish up that credit card, because lab tests for cadmium are in excess of $1,000 per test.
- The $15 per hour grocery store sales clerk is going to look at you like a deer in the headlights when you ask them how much cadmium is in the bar in your basket. Even the organic stores aren't going to be able to tell you because the manufacturer won't share that information with the chocolatier molding up the chocolate they call "theirs".
- The many regulatory bodies in governments all over the world don't really consider cadmium to be an issue, just like they didn't care about lead content 15 years ago (another wave of internet Chicken Little "sky is falling" articles)
In conclusion if you're still concerned, you can see by the tests we have conducted that our chocolate is definitely lower than even the strictest recommended thresholds and we have the lab results to prove it. Heck, now that I think about it our results are so low we could even meet California's standards!
What's Arnold's phone number? Maybe he needs some good chocolate, err... Choklat.
Posted by Brad Churchill
Brad Churchill is the owner and creator of all things "Choklatey". With over 30 years of business experience, 17 years of chocolate experience and many thousands of hours of research behind him, Brad Churchill brings to the table a very unique and pragmatic view of the emergent artisan chocolate industry. It is Mr. Churchill's hope that he can impart his experience upon budding chocolate entrepreneurs and help them balance their passion for this industry with the hard hitting reality and challenges of owning their own business. These articles are just the beginning....