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This Cancer-Causing Substance Was Just Found in Spinach Sold Nationwide

The dangerous heavy metal cadmium has been found in samples of spinach sold at Target, Trader Joe's, Safeway, and others.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Spinach is widely considered to be a superfood. It's packed with folate, omega-3s, lutein, iron, and more. Thus, it's little surprise that health experts around the globe extoll the benefits of this dark, leafy green vegetable. However, a recent inspection of nearly 175 samples of spinach pulled from various retailers has uncovered a danger often lurking in this healthy superstar: the heavy metal cadmium.

A team from the nonprofit organization As You Sow uncovered the issue over the course of a three-year testing period and has just released their findings. Their experts tested spinach sold by major companies including Target, Trader Joe's, Safeway, and others, and found cadmium present in dangerous levels in many spinach products.

While cadmium serves many useful purposes—from its role in batteries to plastic stabilization to the production of nuclear power—it's also a known health hazard when ingested by human beings and is listed as such under California Proposition 65. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) states that cadmium can, among other issues, cause "development toxicity" (hampering proper neurological development of children), "male reproductive toxicity," cancer, and other maladies as well.

Related: Grocery Recalls Are Hitting an All-Time High—Here's Why

OEHHA considers the "Maximum Allowable Dose Level" of orally ingested cadmium to be just 4.1 micrograms per day. However, according to the As You Sow report, spinach from many of the brands inspected contained more than double that amount in a single serving. And the worst offenders had more than 25 times that figure in a single serving–one sample yielded 107.1 micrograms of the heavy metal in the portion tested, a serving that may well have been sold to the public were it not acquired for testing.

As You Sow states that its mission is to "promote environmental and social corporate responsibility" with the goal of creating "a safe, just, and sustainable world in which protecting the environment and human rights is central to corporate decision making."

Now the group is pushing for producers to find ways to reduce the cadmium content in spinach products and for brands to begin clearly listing the possible presence of the metal on product packaging. It says in its report:

"As a result of its testing, As You Sow filed legal notices under the Toxic Enforcement Act with more than 20 companies, including major brands such as Del Monte, General Mills, Chiquita, Safeway, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Whole Foods, Earthbound Farms, Bird's Eye, and Organic Girl for failing to warn consumers that the spinach products they produce and/or sell may expose consumers to levels of cadmium above the MADL."

It's well worth noting that cadmium was found in all types of spinach products, including standard, so-called natural, and certified organic foods.

As far as what you can do, As You Sow notes: "You as a consumer can help make a difference by letting companies know that you take this issue seriously. If your preferred spinach brand is in our spinach tracker showing samples with cadmium above the MADL per serving, call, tweet, or otherwise ask the company to remove or reduce any cadmium in its spinach supply chain."

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Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more
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