Arsenic in rice???

I was surprised to read this report.

Millions of cooks are endangering their health by cooking their rice incorrectly, scientists believe.

Putting more water in the pan or even steeping it overnight is the best way to flush out traces of the poison arsenic, they found.

The chemical contaminates rice as a result of industrial toxins and pesticides which can remain in the soil for decades.

There’s more at the link, including details of the tests involved and different cooking methods.

It makes sense that rice can absorb arsenic and other substances, of course, but I’d always assumed that before it’s sold for food, it’s tested for them, and if it failed the tests, it wouldn’t be approved for human consumption.  Was I wrong?  Can anyone who knows how rice is grown, packaged and marketed comment on this?



  1. My understanding of it is that there is arsenic in the soil, which is taken up by the plant and deposited in the grains. So it's "naturally occurring," in a sense.

    Some locations are worse than others; it depends on the arsenic content of the soil. I think there's a listing somewhere online ranking locations that have less arsenic than others (on the country/state level) so you can look at the rice.

    I dunno. I don't eat a lot of rice because I limit carbohydrates anyway, but just about everything we eat contains something that can kill us, it seems.

    (Also, a friend reminds me: people in Asia eat larger quantities of rice but we do not see vastly higher rates of arsenic-related diseases in them, so this may be a bit of a tempest in a teapot)

  2. Mostly a concern for those in Asia who eat a diet with rice as a daily staple.
    US grown rice doesn't appear to have this problem.

    Here's a site with further information and their final quote:

    Take Home Message
    Arsenic in rice is a serious concern for many people.
    A huge percentage of the world’s population relies on rice as a main food source, and millions of people may be at risk of developing arsenic-related health problems.
    That being said, if you eat rice in moderation as a part of a varied diet, you should be totally fine.
    However, if rice happens to be a large part of your diet, make sure that it was grown in a non-polluted area.

  3. Yes, arsenic bioaccumulates in rice and some soils are higher in arsenic even without contamination. It's also an issue for rice protein.

    Inorganic arsenic is a bigger problem than organic arsenic. In part the new attention is due to new analytical techniques. The biggest exposure risk is for babies and small children, in whom prenatal and early life exposure (pregnant women eating rice, babies eating rice cereal) can pose a risk for cancer later in life.

    The FDA has this to say:

    "Arsenic is an element in the Earth’s crust, and is present in water, air, and soil. It exists in two forms, with the inorganic form considered to be the more toxic. The FDA has been monitoring the levels of arsenic in foods for decades and in 2011, after new methods to differentiate the forms of arsenic became available, the agency expanded its testing to help better understand and manage possible arsenic-related risks associated with food consumption in the United States.

    Rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than other foods, in part because as rice plants grow, the plant and grain tend to absorb arsenic more readily than other food crops. In April 2016, the FDA proposed an action level, or limit, of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. This level, which is based on the FDA’s assessment of a large body of scientific information, seeks to reduce infant exposure to inorganic arsenic. The agency also has developed advice on rice consumption for pregnant women and the caregivers of infants."

    The linked page has links to an extensive report and other material.

    From the analytical data, the riskiest foods for small kids are cereals containing rice and some baby junk foods. Even there, the overall level is below the FDA/European thresholds.

  4. SORT of reminds me of some other hazardous non-hazards- like the the "Drug" Laetril ,from apricot pits, containing ( GASP!) cyanide which somehow never killed users. I think the same is the case with hard shelled seeds in some grapes. Mercury in canned tuna? I have had to use a maintanance level of Dr Atkin's diet since the mid 1980's, so I eat a LOT of canned tuna weekly, and this past year had need to rule out heavy metals as I source of neurological symptoms I am currently plagued with ( my primary xconcern was lead exposure ) No problems with mercury, lead or other heavy metal levels ( excepting music choices, LOL ) Neither did I have any problems related to lead base interuior hiouse paints, dispite being born long before the ban, nor from tetraethyl lead in gasoline before that was banned. The list goes on.
    On the rice thing, I think the lack of overwhelming problems related to consumption of rice in eastern ( use of that term is still allowed, I hope, or it's straight back to oriental. Sorry, could not resist a tongue in cheek troll ) counties speaks to the safety of eating rice daily.

  5. Remember that the dose is the poison.

    Nowhere do they tell us what level of arsenic is present in rice sold in the US.

    But just to be safe, don't drink the elderberry wine from Aunt Abby or Aunt Martha.

  6. I recall some years ago a private company contracted to handle human waste disposal for a major city.
    They processed the stuff and marketed the end product as organic fertilizer.
    It had to be visibly marked as for ornamental plant use only as it was found to be too high in heavy metals to be safe for use with edible crops.
    Will point out that in parts of Asia raw human excrement is still a common fertilizer in the rice paddies.

  7. That would be 'dillo dirt from Austin, TX. They actually use certain plants that uptake heavy metals to pull the heavy metals out of the waste as part of their process, then dispose of the plants to recover/remove the heavy metals. I still wouldn't use it on food plants, but then I don't trust anything that comes out of Berkeley on the Lower Colorado.

  8. When I moved to Japan and my landlady showed me (the poor know-nothing foreign kid) how to cook rice properly, she adamantly insisted on a vigorous and thorough washing of the rice before cooking. I thought she was over-doing it, but she obviously wasn't. After all these years her apparently odd instructions finally make sense.

  9. Anonymous, 10/3/2017 @ 1411: "… a vigorous and thorough washing of the rice before cooking …"

    I was taught to wash rice the Japanese way: an initial fast wash or two in very cold water, followed by working the rice with your fingers in cold water, followed by several more washings of this kind until the rice washed clean.

    Part of this reasoning was that the rice had been processed with talc, and so if you didn't want a thorough cleaning out, you'd wash the rice.

    But the arsenic angle has always bothered me, and that's why I usually stuck with rice from regions that haven't been growing cotton and other high-pesticide crops in those fields.

    There are plenty of those places in the US — I never trusted where my rice was coming from in the US, fearing that it'd come from South Carolina and not California, so back when I ate rice, I'd stick with rice from Pakistan or India. Madhur Jaffrey liked her Tilda rice, and it worked well for me for years, at least until I stopped eating most grains entirely.

    Consumer Reports appears to agree with me about the sourcing of rice: CR: Which rice has the least arsenic?

    Now ask yourself where the local farmers had to treat crops for such persistent pests as the boll weevil, and you'll have an idea of where not to obtain your rice …

  10. Also, for what it's worth: it's not about what's in the soil, it's about what's been done to the soil over the hundreds to thousands of years that people have been living on it.

    That's true of the air and water as well, with implications you might not have thought about.

    In a related vein, here's a purported way to catch a modern counterfeiter of highly valued classical paintings: test a portion of the paint for Cs-137 and Sr-90, and if you find any below the surface, realise that the art was very likely "touched up" or forged in its entirety sometime after the start of nuclear weapons use and testing …

    Of course, the presence of nano-particles of titanium dioxide is also probably a dead giveaway. 🙂

  11. I wouldn't worry about it unless you're eating, as Asian cultures often do, a couple of kilograms of rice daily. And yes, that is how much they're eating, along with little to no meat. Golden rice was created to offset some of the serious nutritional deficits this left people with, especially infants.

  12. I agree with Cedar that it isn't really a problem unless you eat rice consistently.
    To the contrary of what some others said, US grown rice is the worst culprit – much of the rice being grown in the Southern US is on land that use to be used for cotton production; arsenic based pesticides not allowed to be used on food products were used on cotton – after decades of use, there are high levels of it in the soil that are getting pulled into the rice now grown on those fields.

  13. Post Alley Crackpot, I have a quicker test for paintings: if someone offers an expensive painting to me it is a fake. None of the art on my walls cost more than $39.95. But you can get some really good reproduction posters from Allposters for that price. 🙂

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