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Trick, no treat: Researchers find ‘concerning levels’ of toxic metals in popular chocolates

By CM Chaney · October 26, 2023

In brief…

  • One-third of chocolates tested by Consumer Reports had concerning lead, cadmium levels
  • Affected major brands like Hershey's, Nestlé, Starbucks, Trader Joe's
  • Higher levels found in cocoa powder, hot cocoa, baking mixes, dark chocolate
  • CR petitions Hershey's to commit to reducing metals as most iconic brand
  • Group says companies can lower contamination though metals naturally occur
A Consumer Reports study found high levels of heavy metals like lead and cadmium in a third of popular chocolate products from major brands, prompting calls for manufacturers to reduce contamination.  Simon A. Eugster / Wikimedia

Many popular chocolate brands contain concerning levels of heavy metals like lead and cadmium, according to a new report by Consumer Reports.

The watchdog group tested 48 chocolate products and found a third contained high amounts of the metals, which can cause health issues like cancer and developmental delays, especially in children and pregnant women.

Every product had detectable levels of lead and cadmium. This included chocolate bars, hot cocoa mixes, baking mixes, and cocoa powder from brands like Hershey’s, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, and Nestlé.

CR compared metal levels per serving to safety recommendations in California, the only state with guidance. High levels were found in 66% of hot cocoas, 25% of baking mixes, and over 70% of dark chocolate bars tested.

Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar had the highest lead levels of the chocolate bars. Two of the six cocoa powders also contained high lead levels - Hershey’s Cocoa and Droste Cacao Powder.

“Toxic levels of heavy metals like lead and cadmium shouldn’t be in our favorite chocolate products,” said CR’s Brian Ronholm.

CR launched a petition urging Hershey’s, the most iconic brand tested, to commit to reducing metals. A similar petition in May gained 75,000 signatures.

Cocoa powder adds metals absorbed from soil and pollution during processing. Manufacturers must ensure safety, though chocolate is considered a minor exposure source internationally, the FDA said.

Hershey’s referred comment to a confectioners association, which said chocolate is safe to enjoy as it has been for centuries.

But CR’s Dr. Eric Boring said brands clearly vary in metal levels, so manufacturers can reduce contamination.