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Originally published Friday, September 6, 2013 at 4:41 PM

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FDA: Arsenic levels in rice products not health risk

The FDA study found the most arsenic in brown rice and the least in instant rice.

The New York Times

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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Friday that it found no evidence current levels of arsenic in rice pose an immediate health risk.

The finding comes two months after the agency proposed new limits on arsenic in apple juice, after a public outcry caused the agency to look at the issue more closely.

The agency tested more than 1,300 types of rice and rice products, such as rice cakes and infant cereals, and it found the arsenic levels ranged from 3 to 7 micrograms a serving, amounts the agency said were not hazardous to human health in the short term.

Most rice contains much higher levels of arsenic than apple juice, said Keeve Nachman, who studies arsenic in food at the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, but because there is such a wide variety of products made with it and because it is present at such different levels, the analysis for rice is more complicated.

The study found the most arsenic in brown rice and the least in instant rice. Infant cereal and infant-rice formulas were also at the low end of the spectrum.

Rice is thought to have arsenic in higher levels than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed.

Arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food and soil in two forms, organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless. Inorganic arsenic — the type found in some pesticides and insecticides — can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period.

The FDA is looking into how much organic and inorganic arsenic rice eaters are consuming and whether those levels are dangerous. The agency will conduct a risk assessment with the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency to further measure those effects.

Arsenic in the food supply was brought to the public’s attention in 2011 by physician and TV personality Mehmet Oz, who said that levels in apple juice were too high.

In July, the FDA proposed a new limit for acceptable levels in apple juice, though it said it had conducted a broad study with many samples and had found apple juice to be safe.

A microgram is one-millionth of a gram, and an FDA spokeswoman said the levels found in the rice and rice-product samples were too low to cause harm in the short term, citing a toxicological profile for arsenic published by the federal government.

Experts applauded the agency’s effort but said it was impossible to tell whether those levels would be dangerous in the long term without knowing patterns of consumption. Do people tend to consume many servings of rice and rice products a year, or only a few? How big is a typical serving?

The agency said its risk assessment would consider such questions.

Chobani identifies mold in yogurt

WASHINGTON — Yogurt maker Chobani said Friday that the mold that triggered a recall of some of its Greek yogurt cups this week is not associated with foodborne illnesses such as salmonella or E. coli.

The company identified the mold as Mucor circinelloides, a common species that usually affects fruits, vegetables and other plants. It also has been linked to previous cases of spoiled yogurt.

Cornell University Professor Randy Worobo said on a conference call arranged by Chobani that the mold “should not pose a health risk to most consumers.” Worobo is a professor of food science at the university’s college of agriculture.

Chobani spokeswoman Nicki Briggs said the company is still investigating how the yogurt became contaminated.

Chobani formally recalled more than a half-dozen yogurt varieties Thursday, a week after it started asking retailers to pull the products, saying some cups were “swelling and bloating.” The products have the code 16-012 and expiration dates Sept. 11 to Oct. 7.

The company, based in New Berlin, N.Y., said the affected products came from its Idaho facility.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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