Baby Food Heavy Metals: Latest FDA Report & Our Commitment

Author Image Katie Thomson MS, RD | Cofounder

Heavy Metals in Baby Food: Our commitment to our families has always been the same - to provide safe, healthy, and balanced food for your baby.

(Updated 5/2024)

To Our Square Baby Family,

You may recall the initial report on the alarming levels of toxic heavy metals found in several of the largest baby food manufacturers. We shared our commitment to you in reducing toxic heavy metals in this blog post.

We've been working closely with the Clean Label Project as we scaled into our new commercial facility, designed new eco-friendly packaging, and selected our organic ingredient suppliers and farms. 

Let's Get Right To It: Square Baby's Heavy Metals Test Results

Because trust, safety, and transparency is everything, we want to share our results, progress, and what we're doing to help shape the future of heavy metals testing and regulations.

As of March 2023, we've earned the "Purity Award" by the Clean Label Project.  We're so proud of this!

And as of 2024, we are now testing EVERY batch of Square Baby meals.  We're happy to report that every meal came in <10ppb for each of the 4 major heavy metals that were tested -- lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury!  

#WeGotYou.

Apple Curry Chicken + Purity Award

Earning the ultimate standard of certification is no easy feat.

The Clean Label Project conducts rigorous, independent food tests for over 400 different contaminants including heavy metals, chemicals, plastics, pesticides and other toxins. Read more on their methodology here. We've always held ourselves and our meals to the highest standards. And this award proves just that. Read more here.

Are Standards and Limits Being Set for the Industry?

new report was recently released shedding light on several more baby food manufacturers that confirmed lax testing standards and protocols, inadequate recall of products, and overall lack of transparency leading to dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products.

While the FDA has recently announced a new program called “Closer to Zero” in an effort to establish safe industry standards for toxic heavy metals in baby food, this program will not take effect immediately. In fact, it could take years before regulations are put into place for all four toxic elements.

What's the Latest Progress in Requiring Heavy Metals Testing and Reporting?

The Clean Label Project Baby Coalition and Clean Label Project Certified Brands, including Square Baby, have been actively involved in shaping both State of California's AB 899 (requiring mandatory heavy metal testing of baby foods effective January 1, 2024, and mandatory disclosure of baby food heavy metal test results effective January 1, 2025) and Maryland's Rudy's Law, which is similar to California's AB 899 but with one year delay.

What's Next in Regulating Heavy Metals in Baby Food?

In the absence of federal laws putting clear pass/fail criteria in place, states are stepping up to protect their most vulnerable citizens. The recently announced Baby Food Safety Act of 2024 gives us hope that we will soon see reform at the federal level.

More Good News (an FDA update as of 2/2023)

Recently, FDA announced new industry standards for lead in processed foods intended for babies and children under two years of age. Foods covered by the draft guidance, Action Levels for Lead in Food Intended for Babies and Young Children include processed foods such as food packaged in jars, pouches, tubs and boxes.

The new guidelines for lead are as follows:

  • 10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits, vegetables (excluding single-ingredient root vegetables), mixed meals (including grain and meat-based mixtures), yogurts, custards/pudding and single-ingredient meats.
  • 20 ppb for root vegetables (single ingredient like carrots, sweet potatoes).
  • 20 ppb for dry cereals.

These new action limits are not mandatory, but the FDA may take various enforcement actions if they consider a food to be adulterated if it exceeds the new limits. Although this is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to reduce exposure - and it is up to the manufacturers to lower the levels of contaminants in their products.

Currently, there are no set industry standards for toxic heavy metals in cadmium and mercury.

That’s where we come in.

Girl with Box + Stacking

Our commitment to our Square Baby Family has always been the same - to provide safe, healthy, and balanced food for your baby. We stand by that promise and want to share our continued efforts and dedication to our families.

We've been working closely with the Clean Label Project as we scaled into our new commercial facility, designed new eco-friendly packaging, and selected our organic ingredient suppliers and farms. And as of March 2023, we've earned the "Purity Award" by the Clean Label Project. Read more here.

Read more to find out how we have minimized heavy metals in baby food.

What We're Doing to Minimize Heavy Metals in our Baby Food:

(1) Testing Finished Products vs. Individual Ingredients

This recent report found several of the largest baby food manufacturers were testing individual ingredients instead of the whole, finished product for toxic heavy metals. The results from individual ingredient testing were used to estimate the toxic heavy metal levels in their finished product. This led to inaccurate reporting of certain baby food products that were initially considered safe, when in fact, they were exceeding past the threshold of heavy metals.

Based on this report, there is now a recommendation that the FDA mandates “finished-product testing” for all baby food manufacturers. 

As recommended, we test the whole finished product, not just the individual ingredients. The most accurate testing available.

Explore Menu

(2) Performing Third-Party Lab Testing on EVERY Batch!

For example, in April 2024, we tested all of our meals and every one came in <10ppb (parts per billion) for the top four heavy metals we tested including Cadmium, Arsenic, Lead, and Mercury. 

Additionally, in 2022 and 2023, third-party lab results showed each of our tested meals, including our most “at risk” meals (such as Apple Curry Chicken with organic sprouted brown rice, Lil Carrot, and Lil Sweet Potato) resulting in <10 ppb in Cadmium, Arsenic, Lead, and Mercury. 

And we are so proud of that!

To compare, FDA has set standards for the maximum allowable levels of heavy metals in bottled water at 10 ppb (parts per billion).

(3) Balanced Nutrition and Variety Are Key

Offering a variety of foods will not only reduce heavy metal exposure, but it will also ensure your baby is getting a variety of nutrient-dense foods, antioxidants, as well as important, naturally-occurring vitamins & minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and vitamin C & D to help block metal absorption and increase elimination from the body.

Our Square Baby meals offer a wide variety of organic veggies, fruits, whole grains, proteins, health fats & herbs/spices.

(4) Working with Trusted Farms & Suppliers

While we know that heavy metals are naturally occurring and can be found in organic soil, there are farming regions and practices that can dramatically reduce the levels of heavy metals in the soil. We proudly vet and select farms and suppliers that have implemented systems to reduce heavy metals in their soil.

Our continued efforts in minimizing heavy metals in baby food starts with full transparency and our commitment to you and your family.

(5) Reformulated our Meals to be Rice-Free

We had been utilizing an organic, sprouted brown rice in some of our meals (ie Mango Rice Pudding, Spinach Dahl, Apple Curry Chicken, and Coconut Shrimp Fried Rice). While this sprouted brown rice was tested in our finished meals, and came in under 10 ppb, we know our families are looking to include other whole grains and avoid or minimize rice.

So, we reformulated those meals to include other whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, barley, oats, and millet. These recipes have been available since our national expansion in early 2023!

What's The Latest on Arsenic in Rice?

The FDA does have industry standards and a maximum allowable level of inorganic arsenic (set at 100 parts per billion) in infant rice cereal; however, these standards were not followed.

Rice puffs and infant rice cereal are made with one heavily-focused ingredient - rice. While rice has it’s nutritional benefits, using rice as the first listed ingredient comes with a price. Rice is high in inorganic arsenic, which can be harmful to our growing babies.

The report stated many of the largest baby food manufacturers exceeded the threshold for the maximum allowable level of inorganic arsenic in their infant rice cereal when testing was done on the finished product.

Other products like puff products, made with rice as the first ingredient, exceeded inorganic arsenic levels of 100 parts per billion (ppb).

While the majority of the report found rice-based baby food products exceeding FDA’s standard for inorganic arsenic, it also found other toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury to be at levels higher than FDA’s industry standard of 10 ppb set for bottled water.

Don’t want to cut rice out completely?

There are ways to reduce inorganic arsenic and still eat rice. One of the best practices is to choose a product with rice listed as one of the ingredients, but not the main ingredient.

Join our family! Explore our full menu of the best, safest, and most nutritious baby food products available.Mom feeding baby

Helpful Research & Resources:

Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions by emailing us at hello@squarebaby.com or visiting squarebaby.com.

For support or FAQ, please visit us here.

Cofounders of Square Baby: Katie Thomson, MS, RD and Kendall Glynn, MS, CGC

Katie Thomson, MS, RDN (CEO); Kendall Glynn, MS, CGC (COO)

(originally published Jan, 2022)

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