Survey of total mercury and arsenic content in infant cereals marketed in Spain and estimated dietary intake
Due to the fact that infants and children are especially sensitive to mercury and arsenic exposure, predominantly through diet, a strict control of the most widely consumed infant foods, especially infant cereals, is of paramount importance. Levels of both total mercury and arsenic in 91 different infant cereals from ten different manufacturers in Spain were determined by flow injection adapted to cold vapor and hydride generation atomic absorption spectrometry, respectively. Cereals were assessed in terms of the different types, the predominating cereal in the formulation, the added ingredients, and whether the cereal was organically or conventionally obtained. In general, the content of toxic elements (median (Q(1); Q(3))) found in infant cereals based on conventionally obtained raw materials (n = 74, Hg: 2.11 (0.42; 4.58), As: 21.0 (9.4; 50.9) mu g Kg(-1)) was lower than in cereals produced by organic methods (n = 17, Hg: 5.48 (4.54; 7.64), As: 96.3 (87.5; 152.3) mu g Kg(-1)). Mercury content in infant cereals shows the higher values in those formulations with ingredients susceptible to particulate contamination such as gluten-free or cacao-based cereals. The highest arsenic content appears in the rice-based cereals. The mercury and the inorganic arsenic dietary intakes for infants fed on the infant cereals studied were assessed, taking into account the different stages of growth. Organic infant cereals based on cocoa showed the highest risk intakes of mercury, very close to exceeding the intake reference. Just the opposite, 95% of the organically produced infant cereals and 70% of the conventional gluten-free infant cereals showed an inadmissible risk of arsenic intake. Thus, it seems prudent to call for continued efforts in standardizing routine quality control and in reducing arsenic levels in infant cereals; in addition it is essential that relevant legislation be established and regulated by EC regarding these two toxic elements.