updated 4/9/2004 4:57:47 PM ET 2004-04-09T20:57:47

Children shouldn’t eat certain candy imported from Mexico because it may be contaminated with small amounts of lead, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

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At issue is candy that contains significant amounts of chili powder, including lollipops coated with chili, and powdery mixtures of salt, lemon flavor and chili seasoning.

The chili powder apparently can become contaminated with lead during manufacturing, FDA said.

Also, FDA cautioned against tamarind, a popular Mexican candy item sometimes mixed with chili. It also can become contaminated with lead if it is sold in poorly made glazed ceramic vessels that can leach lead.

Fruit or lollipops dipped or mixed with chilies are popular among Mexicans, and a market has been growing for them north of the border, particularly in high-immigration areas.

None of the candy contains lead amounts that exceed federal limits of 0.5 parts per million, said Michael Kashtock, an FDA plant safety adviser. But the chili-containing candy has more lead than sugar-based candy does — and candy lead limits are soon to be lowered, as part of FDA’s effort to gradually ratchet down the amount of lead in foods, especially those popular with children.

“We’re not saying that these levels are unsafe,” Kashtock said. Still, “parents would be prudent to not allow children to eat these products.”

Even mildly elevated levels of lead can harm children’s developing brains. Children can absorb lead in many ways, such as from soil or chipping paint in houses built before lead in paint was banned. Because lead accumulates in the body, experts recommend avoiding even tiny amounts wherever possible.

The FDA said it is working with Mexican government officials to resolve the problem.

Mexican health officials didn’t immediately comment, but the makers of some brands popular in Mexico insisted Friday that they meet all FDA standards.

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