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Dangerous levels of heavy metals have been found in dark chocolate bars, both from major and lesser-known brands.

In a test of 28 bars of dark chocolate, Consumer Reports found that many contain high amounts of cadmium and lead, the consumer advocacy group said Thursday.

The metals can lead to a variety of health problems, including nervous system problems, kidney damage and reproductive issues in adults, and development problems for children, Consumer Reports said.

Consumer Reports found that for 23 of the bars, eating just one ounce daily would give an adult an unsafe level of at least one of the two metals. 

“That shows it’s possible for companies to make products with lower amounts of heavy metals — and for consumers to find safer products that they enjoy,” CR food safety researcher Tunde Akinleye said.

The five bars with unsafe levels of the two metals were: Theo Organic Pure Dark with 70% cocoa; Theo Organic Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate with 85% cocoa; Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate with 85% cacao; Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate with 85% cocoa; and Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate with 70% cacao.

The five bars with the safest levels of both cadmium and lead were two Ghirardelli bars: Intense Dark Chocolate with 86% cocoa and Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight with 72% cacao. The others were Mast organic dark chocolate with 80% cocoa; Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate with 70% cacao; and Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate with 85% cacao.

“The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) guidelines cited in the Consumer Reports study are not food safety standards … The products cited in this study are in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements,” said the National Confectioners Association, which represents the candy industry.

The study used California’s maximum allowable dose level (MADL) as a benchmark, 0.5 micrograms of lead and 4.1 micrograms of cadmium. There are no federal regulations about metals in dark chocolate. 

“The FDA monitors and regulates levels of environmental contaminants, including lead and cadmium, in foods. If the agency finds that the level of a contaminant causes the food to be unsafe, we take action,” a Food and Drug Administration spokesperson told the Daily Mail.

An investigation into the presence of heavy metals in chocolate by nonprofit As You Sow and the National Confectioners Association determined how both metals get into dark chocolate.

The cadmium comes from the plants leaching the metal from the soil as they grow in the tropics. To reduce the amount of cadmium without altering the taste of the chocolate, manufacturers must blend low and high cadmium beans for now. In the long term, soil composition or cocoa genetics would have to be changed.

Taza, manufacturer of one of the five safest bars inspected in the CR study, ensures that the beans used in its bars have “different origins to ensure that the final product [is safe],” Taza CEO Alex Whitmore told Consumer Reports.

Lead, on the other hand, adheres to the cocoa beans during the drying process, having come from soil, dust and industrial facilities such as power plants. The outer shells of beans, once removed from their pods, have a sticky pulp on them that allows the lead dust to stick.

New handling practices, including minimizing the contact drying beans have with soil and aerial particles and optimizing contaminant removal later in the process, should reduce lead levels within the first year of their implementation, the candy group said.

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