What Does The Lead Warning On Candy Mean?

Candy is a paradox. A thrill for children and adults alike, candy is often seen with vibrant colors and fruity flavors that can attract even the most miserable of taste buds. According to the National Confectioners Association, candy sales climbed to £36.9 billion in the U.S in 2021, with $21.1 billion of that accounted for by chocolate.

But the possible effects of candy on health are well documented. It is a top source of added sugar, which is mixed into food products to boost flavor or enhance shelf life. It's something Harvard Health Publishing says Americans consume far too much of (men, for example, ingest an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar every day). The result of high levels of added sugar consumption is an increased risk of developing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

You may have noticed another concerning health implication advertised on some packets of candy – the potential inclusion of lead. These warning signs are a legal requirement for food products that may contain lead in California, reports California Health Report. But what candy ingredients does it impact, and has it been effective in countering lead consumption?

Candy ingredients and wrappers can contain lead

In 1986, California passed Proposition 65, requiring companies to warn consumers of products that could contain "chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm," reports Wirecutter. Over 900 chemicals are included, and lead is one of them, notes California Health Report.

Exposure to lead over long periods can cause pain, memory problems, and depression, and it can affect children at lower levels of exposure, explains the CDC. There is no safe level of lead exposure, the World Health Organization stresses. Lead can be found in candy ingredients like chili powder and tamarind, according to the CDC, as well as in inks used in imported candy wrappers.

Wirecutter believes businesses are putting warning labels on more products in order to protect themselves against litigation – including online deliveries that could ship to California. Fines for breaching Proposition 65 can be up to $2,500 a day, and in 2018 companies made settlements of over $35 million to California authorities. But California Health Report credits the rule with reducing the lead content in candy – in 2009, 3% of candies containing chili powder and tamarind featured hazardous levels of lead, down from nearly 50% in 2004.