Risk Analysis. 2015;35(5):872-81

Abstract: Detection of heavy metals at trace or higher levels in foods and food ingredients is not unexpected given the widespread unavoidable presence of several metals in nature, coupled with advancement in analytical methods and lowering limits of detection. To assist risk managers with a rapid risk assessment when facing these situations, a metal dietary exposure screening tool (MDEST) was developed. The tool uses food intake rates based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2010 consumption data for the U.S. population two+ years and up and for infants age six months to <two years based on the Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, and existing exposure limits for several frequently detected metals (e.g., inorganic arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury). The tool has data entry fields for detected concentrations and includes algorithms that combine metal levels with consumption data to generate screening-level exposure estimates, which it then compares to MDEST assigned default portions of the exposure limits in the risk characterization module. As a screening-level tool, the risk assessment output is intentionally conservative, public health protective, and useful for a rapid assessment to set aside issues that are not of concern. Issues that cannot be readily resolved using this screening tool will need to be further evaluated with more refined input data that are tailored to the specific question or situation under consideration.

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This work was supported by the IAFNS Committee on Food and Chemical Safety.