A recent lawsuit filed in California Superior Court warns to watch out for specific products sold by Simple Truth Organic Brand at Kroger if you want to avoid lead contamination in your food. Which products were found to contain high levels of lead? You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like the safest ketchup without PFAS “forever chemicals,” spices without high levels of heavy metals, & best water filters for PFAS, now join us as we break down the Kroger lawsuit over high levels of lead contamination in store brand Simple Truth Organic and what that means for your family. We are also going to explain what California Prop.65 is all about and how it protects your family.
Disclosure: This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. This post also contains affiliate links.
Kroger (Makers of Simple Truth Organic) Sued in California Superior Court for High Levels of Lead in Products
Environmental attorney Vineet Dubey recently sued supermarket giant Kroger on behalf of Ecological Alliance for high levels of lead in their food. Ecological Alliance commissioned a study looking at lead contamination at several privately labeled products inside Kroger and seeks to eliminate the sale of these products in California under Prop.65.
The lawsuit states “lead is a toxic metal that, even at low levels, may cause a range of health effects, including behavioral problems and learning disabilities.”
Ecological Alliance sent notice to Kroger and the Attorney General of California back on June 18th, 2021, again in July 12, and October 25th, 2021. Identical letters were sent to every state Attorney General in the United States and also to cities larger than 750,000 in California. All agencies failed to do anything so they are now seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to compel Kroger to take action and provide a warning to consumers under Prop. 65 laws.
Below is a list of the products that according to the lawsuit had lead over the limits of Prop. 65 in California. Simple Truth products may not have artificial preservatives, artificial colors, synthetic preservatives, artificial ingredients, or artificial additives, but they did find lead, which trumps all of that. Organic salads, chips, dairy, yogurt, eggs, chicken, quinoa, sodas, and other quality foods may have a certification from third-party agencies, but no certification provides protections from all issues arising from the food supply in this marketplace. Here are the organic items found with high levels of lead we recommend you avoid.
Organic Simple Truth Products with Lead
- Simple Truth Organic Diced Peaches & Pears (11.7 micrograms lead, over 22 times greater than the allowable amount)
- Simple Truth Organic Berry Medley (8.34 micrograms of lead, over 16 times greater than the allowable amount)
- Simple Truth Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti (6.77 micrograms of lead, over 13 times greater than the allowable amount)
- Simple Truth Organic Raisin Bran (3.03 micrograms of lead, over 6 times greater than the allowable amount)
- Simple Truth Organic Breakfast Cookies (3.01 micrograms of lead, over 6 times greater than the allowable amount)
Conventional Kroger Products with Lead
- Kroger Spinach with Bacon Salad Kit (70.1 micrograms of lead, over 140 times greater than allowable amount)
- Kroger Sweet Peas & Carrots (33.1 micrograms of lead, over 66 times greater than allowable amount)
- Kroger Graham Crackers (11.2 micrograms of lead, over 22 times greater than allowable amount)
- Kroger Cinnamon Raisin Bagels (6.82 micrograms of lead, over 13 times greater than allowable amount)
- Private Selection Strawberries (2.47 micrograms of lead, over 4 times greater than allowable amount)
- Kroger Diced Jalapenos (2.42 micrograms of lead, over 4 times greater than allowable amount)
- Kroger Sliced Beets (2.27 micrograms of lead, over 4 times greater than allowable amount)
- Kroger Italian Style Cut Green Beans (2.04 micrograms of lead, over 4 times greater than allowable amount)
- Kroger Cinanpuffs (1.7 micrograms of lead, over 3 times greater than allowable amount)
- Kroger Strawberry Applesauce (1.39 micrograms of lead, over 2 times greater than the allowable amount)
Earlier last year, there was a similar study on spices and we encourage you to buy only from the brands that were deemed clean.
What is California’s Prop. 65 Law?
Prop. 65 requires businesses to provide warnings to consumers living in California about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. These chemicals can be in the quality food products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or released into the environment. By requiring this information to be provided, it enables consumers in California to make informed decisions about their exposures to these chemicals.
When you see the Prop. 65 Warning from California it should read like this.
WARNING: Consuming this product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/food.
Prop 65 is a right-to-know law, which means it’s only information. It does not ban the sale of any of the chemicals inside these products. This may not be from visible identifiers on the front of packaging. These labels can be found anywhere on the package of new products.
Prop. 65 is Stricter Than Any Other Agency or Trade Group
When you compare the standards from Prop. 65 in terms of lead and the rest of the industry, you realize very quickly that California is very serious about lead. Here are the established oral limits for lead based on daily dosages of the finished product. This will not affect the daily values or ingredient statements of the product.
- California Prop. 65 for Reproductive Toxin allows for 0.5 ug/day of lead
- California Prop. 65 for Carcinogens allows for 15 ug/day of lead
- NSF/ANSI 173 (industry certification) allows for 20 ug/day of lead
- Canada Natural Health Products Directorate allows for 20 ug/day of lead
What Kind of Ingredients Can Trigger a Prop. 65 Warning?
Most of the time, Prop. 65 warning is a case of “indirect additives”, whereas they are not intentionally added, but instead found in the soil, through processing, or leached through packaging. According to the State of California, chemicals that are likely to show up in food, beverage & supplement products are as followings:
- certain types of PFAS “forever chemicals”
And when it comes to supplements & food, our advisors tell Mamavation that it is mostly lead. Lead & other heavy metals are naturally found in the soil, and can also come off processing equipment in micro fragments. It’s impossible to completely get rid of, so California has devised a system that only alerts you when certain heavy metals gets above a certain threshold.
So if you have several supplement bottles with Prop. 65 Warnings, you can contact the company to find out how much lead is in their product to make an informed choice. However, there is no law mandating them to tell you that information.
Types of Prop.65 Warnings
There are several different types of Prop.65 warnings and they mean different things. The very first one you see below is the most severe and requires a higher standard of a quantity of laboratory studies to qualify.
- WARNING: This product can expose you to a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.
- WARNING: This product can expose you to a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.
- WARNING: This product can expose you to a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
How Much Lead Does California Allow Inside Products Without Prop.65 Warnings?
California defines the No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) for naturally occurring lead to be 15 mcg per day. That means if a product has more than 15 mcg in one dose, it’s red-flagged and will get a Prop.65 Warning level 1 saying WARNING: This product can expose you to a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.
|Lead acetate||23 (oral)|
|Lead phosphate||58 (oral)|
|Lead subacetate||41 (oral)|
For instance, If a supplement delivered 15 mcg or less, but the total amount was more than 0.5 mcg of lead, they would still have to show a warning sign, but would have warning level 3 instead saying WARNING: This product can expose you to a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Finally, when the amount of lead inside a daily serving is less than 0.5 mcg, no warning is needed. It’s the general belief that because California is the most stringent, healthful options may be greater in the state of California.
How Much Lead Is In My Food?–Comparison of Supplements & Food
Because lead is natural, it’s also found in the soil. Certain plants uptake heavy metals and concentrate lead in their flowers, petals, and fruit. While other times, it’s because it’s eaten by an animal and is now in your meal. Heavy metals like arsenic are also found in the soil from the overuse of pesticides. Being on a vegetarian diet will not protect you from lead.
The Food and Drug Administration monitors the number and amount of contaminants in food and lists their findings here from 2006 to 2014. Here are some foods from your everyday life to give you a comparison.
- Avocados – 4.5 mcg
- Brussel Sprouts – 7.9mcg
- Cucumbers – 3.4 mcg
- Dry Roasted Nuts – 10.2 mcg
- Peaches -3.4 mcg
- Red Apples – 2.6 mcg
- Shrimp – 23.8 mcg
- Spinach – 7 mcg
- Strawberries – 2 mcg
- Sweet Potatoes -7.2 mcg
- Wine – 6.8 mcg
According to the EPA, lead in the soil can range from 50 to 400 pm with higher concentrations near mining sites.
How Much Lead Is Safe For Children
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “there is no safe level of lead exposure in children, with lasting decreases in cognition documented in children with blood levels as low as 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood.” However, Prop.65 allows 0.5 micrograms per day.
The FDA, however, disagrees with California and instead has set the limit of lead to 75 micrograms per day for adults and 6 micrograms per day for children. With such a low amount suggested for children, it’s especially important to watch lead exposure in their food like seafood & supplements.
As you can see, California is far more protective of children than the FDA. Natural products with the organic seal are more likely to sell cleaner products to California to ward off Prop. 65 lawsuits. This is very common in the supplement industry for brands to offer special formulations in California than they do elsewhere.
Lead Poisoning Symptoms in Adults
Although pregnant women and children are primarily at risk, lead poisoning is also dangerous for adults. Signs and symptoms in adults might include the following:
- High blood pressure
- Joint and muscle pain
- Difficulties with memory or concentration
- Abdominal pain
- Mood disorders
- Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm
- Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women
Ways Around the Prop.65 Law For Companies–Loopholes & Being Out of Compliance
But what if you live in California and have never noticed any of your supplements or food having these warning signs. Are you in the clear yet? Well, no. There are some loopholes in this law, which means you still need to be on guard in case you are dealing with one of these issues.
- Businesses with less than 10 employees (and government agencies)
- When the manufacturing company can prove that the levels of heavy metals are naturally occurring in the materials making up the product and are not the result of intentionally adding the contaminant in manufacturing. (however, this always loses in court)
Then there are just brands that are out of compliance and either may not know it or are purposely not complying and taking their chances.
We found companies out of compliance with FDA laws when we investigated over 70+ probiotics for the best quality ones. (Click here to see our probiotic investigation.) We found this to be more common in newer and smaller brands.
How is Prop.65 Enforced?
Prop. 65 is not enforced by California. This is an instance where the private sector is tasked with compliance with enforcement through litigation. Any public or private entity can bring a lawsuit against a dietary supplement company or food company for non-compliance of any of these issues. In addition, these situations can also arise:
- Public lawsuits can be brought by the California Attorney General (AG), any district attorney, or city attorneys in cities with a population exceeding 750,000.
- Private parties “acting in the public interest” may also bring a lawsuit, but only after providing a 60 Day Notice of the alleged violation to the AG, the appropriate district attorney, the city attorney, and the business accused of the violation.
How is Lead Found in USDA Organic Foods by Simple Truth Organics?
According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), soil testing is not mandated by the USDA organic standards for lead or PFAS. Organic may prohibit antibiotics, growth hormones, toxic persistent pesticides, biosolids, and farm much more sustainably, but they don’t seem to protect their consumers from lead and PFAS.
In fact, inside your neighborhood Kroger store, their generic organic brands may have somewhat less scrutiny than name brands that are USDA organic. This is the case with organic milk. When shopping at conventional grocery stores for product categories with certifications from third parties like USDA organic, no one certification can protect you from all the issues arising from food. The Simple Truth Brand and their Simple Truth Organic products may not be scrutinized in quite the same say other organic brands are.
So how does this issue become solved? Consumer demand and/or a change of the USDA organic standards is the only way this nightmare will disappear in natural foods and organic foods.