LOS ANGELES — So you like your hot sauce south-of-the-border spicy, with that extra punch?
Well, Nevada researchers have found that little added twang might not be an intended result of the recipe: Many imported hot sauces sold in the U.S. contain dangerous levels of lead, according to what is billed as a first-of-its-kind environment and food study.
Shawn Gerstenberger, lead researcher for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) study, told the Los Angeles Times that there are no U.S. government standards for the amounts of lead in hot-sauce brands.
UNLV researchers tested 25 bottles of hot sauce imported from Mexico and South America. The products were bought in U.S. ethnic markets and grocery stores. Four bottles, or 16 percent of the sample, exceeded U.S. Food and Drug Administration standard for safe levels of lead. The product packaging was also tested because lead in packaging has been known to leach into food.
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The results were published earlier this year in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health and recently publicized by the university.
According to the study’s researchers, the four sauces with the highest lead content are Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero, El Pato Salsa Picante, Salsa Habanera and Bufalo Salsa Clasica.
Gerstenberger said the study took place almost by accident: The UNLV researcher found in 2006 that Mexican-style candies containing chili peppers and salt also contained high lead levels. That study helped bring about the removal of some imported candies from grocery shelves.
“Candies from Mexico often contain high amounts of lead from their peppers and salt, which are the same ingredients in hot sauce,” he told The Times. “Since the two products often sit next to each other on the shelves, we figured we should take a look at the hot sauce.”
Gerstenberger said Mexican companies were urged to make changes to the hot-sauce industry like they did with candy.
“All it takes is washing the chilies and using sea salt instead of mine salt, which is known to be high in lead,” Gerstenberger said.