November 15, 2003
State Health Department Issues Health Warning on
Lead-Contaminated Chapulines (Grasshoppers)
Consumers, particularly pregnant women and children, should avoid eating
chapulines (grasshoppers) from Oaxaca, Mexico, because they may contain
excessively high levels of lead that could cause serious health problems,
State Health Director Diana M. Bontá, R.N., Dr.P.H., warned today.
"Lead is toxic to humans, especially infants, young children and developing
fetuses, in both short- and long-term exposures," said Bontá. "Lead can
cause damage to the central nervous system, resulting in learning
disabilities and behavioral disorders that could last a lifetime."
Residents from some regions of Mexico eat chapulines (chap-oo-lean-ès) as a
traditional snack food. Chapulines are usually prepared with ingredients
such as garlic, salt, lime juice or a red chili powder coating. They are not
widely available in commercial distribution and usually brought into the
United States by individuals who have recently visited Oaxaca or other parts
The product, often a dull red color, is sold in small, unlabeled bags at
Hispanic retail food stores, in restaurants and at flea markets. The public
and sellers of chapulines are encouraged to contact the California
Department of Health Services (CDHS) at (916) 445-2264 to provide
information that can assist public health investigators in learning more
about the potential threat that the product poses to children.
Recent analysis of chapulines from Oaxaca, Mexico, showed that they may
contain as much as 2,300 micrograms of lead per gram of product. The U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that children under age 6
should consume on average no more than 6.0 micrograms of lead each day from
all food sources. A young child eating one of these highly contaminated
chapulines could ingest nearly 60 times his or her tolerable daily intake
for lead. While some of the chapulines analyzed contained no detectable
lead, consumers have no practical way of determining if the product is
contaminated with lead. The source of lead in the chapulines from Oaxaca is
under investigation CDHS began investigating the product after it was
referred to the department by the Monterey County Health Department. County
investigations of several lead poisoning cases involving children determined
that the children were eating chapulines. CDHS investigators are working
with FDA and local health departments to ensure that the wholesale and
retail food industries are aware of the potential hazards associated with
lead in foods.
Parents of children who may have consumed chapulines should consult with
their physician or health care provider to determine if further testing is
warranted. For more information about lead poisoning, parents may contact
their local childhood lead poisoning prevention program or local public
health department. Additional information and a list of local lead
prevention programs are also available at DHS' Web site at: http://www.dhs.cahwnet.gov/childlead/
or by calling the California Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch in
Oakland at (510) 622-5000.