An October 2023 report released by Consumer Reports found high levels of cadmium and lead in select dark chocolate products, included those from Hershey’s, Trader Joe’s, and other popular brands. The group’s scientists tested 28 dark chocolate bars for heavy metals, and detected cadmium and lead in all of them.
The findings revealed that eating just one ounce from any of the 23 bars tested would put an adult over the limit for both heavy metals that public health experts deem acceptable.
Considering that cadmium and lead are linked to a host of health problems in both children and adults, the study results are worrisome to many. “The metals can cause developmental problems, affect brain development, and lead to lower IQ,” says Tunde Akinleye, a food safety researcher with Consumer Reports who led the study. “Frequent exposure to lead in adults, for example, can lead to nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage, and reproductive issues.”
Earlier this year, the National Confectioners Association released results of a three-year study of the sources of lead and cadmium in cocoa and chocolate and how levels may be reduced in the future, though they believe the current levels aren’t dangerous. “Chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat and can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries,” Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at NCA, tells Food Quality & Safety. “Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible.”
Consumer Reports identified and prioritized a list of recommended cadmium and lead reduction measures for the industry to consider implementing, including sourcing cocoa beans from areas with lower levels of the metals.