One of the world's favorite natural thirst quenchers can also be a potential dangerous. The most recent proof of that involves a fruit processing plant in Sunnyside, WA, that distributes fruit juice concentrates and associated products throughout the United States. Over a six-week-period in mid-2016, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials tested the plant's apple juice product and found arsenic (As) levels to be nine times higher than allowable by law, which is 10 parts per billion. 1, 2
In a warning letter issued to the processor, the FDA noted, "the inspection revealed serious violations of the juice Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulation." The FDA then reminded the processor that "prolonged exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic is associated with cancer, skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and diabetes in humans." 3
Sounds like some serious violations. So why have we not heard more about this incident until now? The likely answer might have to do with the arsenic itself. It might come as a surprise to learn that arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the environment that turns up in lots of the things that we eat and drink. It ends up in our food in one of a number of ways: naturally through environmental uptake, anthropogenically through the use of pesticides, and/or through contamination during processing. 4
There are also two forms of arsenic, organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic contains carbon and other elements, which appears to prevent it from entering cells, thus lowering the compound's toxicity. Fish, fruits, vegetables, and grains often contain organic arsenic, which researchers consider relatively safe. Inorganic arsenic, however, contains no carbon, and its structure can penetrate but it can combine with many other elements. Occurring naturally in geologic formations, inorganic arsenic leaches into water as it passes over these formations or enters into the environment through the use of certain pesticides. This form of arsenic is highly toxic and classified as a carcinogen. As little as 100 milligrams of inorganic arsenic can kill you. 5 That is why it is critically important to identify what type and how much arsenic is in our food supply.
New, Faster Detection Method
That is especially true for apple juice, which is the quintessential drink of children. Scientists have monitored arsenic in apple juice for decades. Two scientists at PerkinElmer, however, decided to go a step further. Rather than simply monitoring the total arsenic concentration in the juice, they measured the various forms of arsenic. What they found is an eye opener. 6
Using seven different apple juice brands obtained at a local grocery, the two scientists ran several undiluted samples through a PerkinElmer NexION® 350D ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer) coupled toa PerkinElmer Altus™ HPLC (High-Performance Liquid Chromatography) in a series of three-minute tests.
Using a novel reversed-phase chromatography method with a cation-pairing reagent, the elution order of the species was reversed compared to more traditional anion exchange chromatography. That allowed for faster separation and a shorter run time than the traditional method and enabled lower levels of arsenic to be measured. Consequently, the researchers found all seven undiluted apple juices contained both organic and inorganic arsenic at various low levels. In the case of inorganic arsenic, the experiments detected two forms of the toxic compound (As3 and As5). Fortunately, all seven commercial samples tested significantly below the federal arsenic limit of 10 µg/L. The results also revealed that inorganic arsenic is always present at levels greater than organic arsenic. 7
Why is that important? "It is possible that in the future, the action level for arsenic in apple juice will decrease due to the susceptibility of children," the researchers said in an application note documenting the process. 8 If that happens, PerkinElmer's three-minute HPLC/ICP-MS hyphenated speciation process already demonstrated that it reduces laboratory prep time and is a simple, reliable, and fast method for measuring arsenic in apple juice. Equally important, this new technology further augments PerkinElmer's full range of scientific instrumentation – including the NexION ICP-MS, Altus™ HPLC, Optima™ ICP-OES, and PinAAcle™ AA – that are recognized around the world as the gold standard in testing trace metals in our environment and food.
The PerkinElmer instruments mentioned in this article are for research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Questions & Answers: Apple Juice and Arsenic,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, July 15, 2013.
- Evan Bush, “Arsenic Found In Apple Juice From Yakima Valley Processor," The Seattle Times, June 24, 2016.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations: Valley Processing, Inc.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 2, 2016.
- Helmut Ernstberger and Ken Neubauer, “Accurate and Rapid Determination of Arsenic Speciation in Apple Juice,” PerkinElmer HPLC/ICP-MS Application Note, 2015.
- World Health Organization, “Arsenic Fact Sheet,” World Health Organization, June 2016.