The Consumer Council tested 27 samples of dried goji berries, discovering that many of them contain heavy metals such as lead – and at concentrations close to the local limit in two different batches.
Another goji berry threat involves the use of pesticides, which were identified in a shocking 70 percent of the samples tested. The only silver lining is that pesticide levels were all within local and European standards – but this does not necessarily mean they are safe to consume even at these levels.
Traditional Chinese cooking utilizes goji berries in many dishes, including those involving steamed chicken and stewed soups.
"The council urges the industry to reduce the use of pesticides and other chemical pest control methods to cut risks to humans and the environment," said Nora Tam Fung-yee, chairwoman of the council's research and testing committee.
(Related: Learn more about why goji berries, when produced cleanly without chemical pesticides, are one of the most nutritious foods on planet earth.)
As for the various heavy metals detected in the dried goji berry samples, all of them tested positive, with 21 of them showing lead levels ranging from 0.018 mg to 0.29 mg per kilogram. There were also trace levels of cadmium, arsenic, and chromium detected in some of the samples.
Because cadmium, arsenic, and chromium can damage the lungs and respiratory system when consumed heavily, the council is basically warning people to perhaps not consume as many goji berries as usual because of the elevated risks involved with doing so.
Two particular samples, Premier Food's Instant Ningxia Wolfberry and Yu Pin King's Wolfberry Fruit, were the worst offenders in terms of lead contamination at 0.284 mg/kg and 0.29 mg/kg, respectively. These are very close to the upper limit of lead allowed by the Hong Kong Food Adulteration (Metallic Contamination) Regulations.
Concerning these two brands, the council referred its results to the Centre for Food Safety for a follow-up. That group tested the same two samples and arrived at different numbers: 0.01 mg/kg of lead in Premier Food and 0 mg/kg of lead in Yu Pin King.
How the results from the two groups came to be this disparate remains unknown, but perhaps the government-run Centre for Food Safety does not want to find any contamination, while the Consumer Council, an independent group, is actually trying to protect consumers from contamination.
This is just speculation, of course, but it would appear as though something is amiss in terms of the two groups' testing protocols. The Centre for Food Safety did say that heavy metals exist in the "natural environment," the suggestion being that it is normal for them to occur in some foods.
In 19 of the samples, the council identified 14 different types of pesticides, noting that many farmers spray their goji berries with these chemicals to protect against infestation.
One sample had seven different types of detectable pesticides, while four contained five or more types.
"Two samples had 0.062 mg/kg of chlorfenapyr and 0.071 mg/kg of chlorothalonil respectively, which exceeded maximum residue limits set by the European Food Safety Authority, but were lower than the requirements under Hong Kong's Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation," reported the South China Morning Post, a Chinese state-run media outlet.
"... a 60kg (132lbs) adult would have to consume more than 29kg or 17kg of the two foods in question per day respectively for them to pose a health risk."
To help remove harmful residue from the surface of goji berries, the council recommends first soaking them in cold drinking water for 15 to 20 minutes before eating them.
The latest news about the hidden toxins found in many conventionally grown foods can be found at HeavyMetals.news.
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