Mondelēz International, the world's largest manufacturer of processed food snacks, including Nabisco, Oreo, Cadbury and Trident, will stop selling ginger snap cookies containing levels of lead that were up to nine times the limit for one serving without a warning label, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced on Friday, Jan. 22, after the company and prosecutors reached a settlement.
Ten district attorney offices and the state Attorney General's Office began looking into Nabisco Ginger Snaps in 2013 after being alerted by an investigation into high lead levels in products containing ginger by the nonprofit group Center for Environmental Health. Lead in the cookies was linked to supplies of molasses and ginger, Rosen's office said.
"Lead is a neurotoxin that affects virtually every organ system, primarily the central nervous system, and particularly the developing brain. Children are at a greater risk than adults of suffering from the neurotoxic effects of lead. While no safe lead exposure threshold has been identified, California's Proposition 65 limits lead exposure to 0.5 micrograms per serving per day without a warning," Rosen's office said in a press release.
Mondelēz International agreed to a settlement that includes limiting lead in its Nabisco Ginger Snaps to no more than 30 parts per billion per serving.
District attorneys consulted with a Proposition 65 expert from the Attorney General's Office to develop the testing and processing protocols, Yen Dang, supervising deputy district attorney for the Consumer Protection Unit, said. Mondelēz International must adhere to the strict testing protocols.
The company will also fund ongoing independent auditing of its products for lead, and it will monitor its supply chains to ensure raw materials are within acceptable limits for lead. It will also pay $823,750 in civil penalties, costs and attorney fees, according to Rosen's office.
The settlement has a potential worldwide impact on the safety of processed snack foods, Rosen's office said. The auditing protocols and changes in supplier specifications by a company as large as Mondelēz should have a significant impact on the way other companies screen for lead in processed foods, Rosen's office said.
"Public health is paramount. I'm pleased that this business has taken responsibility and taken steps to make sure their snacks are safe," Rosen said.