Halloween treats probably won’t give you lead poisoning, but watch that hot chocolate

New research is putting the harmful metal content of chocolate under the microscope again, but don’t go tossing the kids’ trick-or-treat haul just yet.

What happened: Watchdog group Consumer Reports tested dozens of chocolate products for lead and cadmium, finding that almost one-third had dangerous levels.

  • Milk chocolate had low levels of both metals, so the candy kids pick up on Halloween is likely safe.

  • But lead content was above California’s maximum allowable levels in two of twelve chocolate chips, two of six cocoa powders, one of six brownie mixes, two of six cake mixes and four of six hot chocolate mixes.

  • The new study follows tests Consumer Reports did last year on dark chocolate that found potentially dangerous levels of one or both metals in 23 of 29 products.

Why it’s important: Long-term exposure to cadmium has been linked to kidney and bone damage. Lead exposure can cause brain and nervous system issues, as well as developmental delays in children.

Zoom out: A lot of foods contain cadmium and lead, but the amounts are so small that you’d have to eat a nearly impossible amount to experience any adverse effects.

  • Cocoa (where chocolate comes from) also contains cadmium — like other plants, it absorbs some of the metal present in the soil. Dark chocolate contains more cocoa, so it has higher levels.

  • But a report last year found that lead was finding its way into cocoa after it was harvested, likely due to particles in the air and nearby dirt that were picked up as the beans dried in the sun. 

Bottom line: The tests examined one ounce of each product, which is roughly the size of two fun-size Mars bars. Health experts say people can avoid trouble by eating chocolate in moderation, or sticking to products found to be safe. —JK