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November 15,  2003

State Health Department Issues Health Warning on Lead-Contaminated Chapulines (Grasshoppers)

(SafetyAlerts) - 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 of Mexico.

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
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The information contained herein has been obtained from sources that the Company believes to be reliable, however, the Company has not independently verified or confirmed the information and the recipient acknowledges that no representations or warranties are being made in connection with the use of the information.