The candy, sold under the brand name Roopal Swad, was analyzed by the Public Health Department and found to contain up to 0.18 parts per million of lead. In California, foods with more than 0.10 parts per million of lead are considered contaminated.
The company that imported the product, India Imports & Exports Inc., is voluntarily recalling the candy.
"The contamination was identified through routine surveillance sampling in the marketplace," said Pat Kennelly, chief of the food safety section of the California Department of Public Health.
It's not yet clear how many stores are selling the candy. To make sure the product is removed from circulation, the state health department traces the product to the end retailer and "provides the local health departments with a list of the retailers that received the recalled candy so they can verify the product has been removed from store shelves," Kennelly said.
The candy comes in a clear, plastic 7-ounce bag, and each oval candy is individually wrapped with silver foil.
The routine testing was mandated by a bill that passed in October 2005, after a series by The Orange County Register revealed that state and federal regulators had measured dangerous levels of lead in candy for years but did nothing to regulate it. As part of AB 121 [PDF], the Public Health Department's Food and Drug Branch is required to test samples of candy containing chili and tamarind, as well as other specific types of candy, to ensure they don't contain unsafe levels of lead.
Since the beginning of the year, the health department's food and drug laboratory has tested hundreds of types of candy [PDF], and only a few, including Toxic Waste Nuclear Sludge Cherry Sludge Chew Bars and Bavan Brand Sugar Rewari, were found to be lead-contaminated. The Food and Drug Administration previously has tested Mexican-style candies, which often contain tamarind and chili, and found many of them to contain higher levels of lead than candies that are solely sugar-based. Those studies suggest that chili can pose a risk because soil deposits on the chilies are not properly washed off before drying, which increases the lead concentration.
Merchants who knowingly sell the candy could face up to a $500 fine per violation.
Consumers who find the candy on store shelves should call the California Department of Public Health at 1-800-495-3232.
Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)