Lead alert: South Korea crackdowns on imported US baby food brands following authority’s report

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) recently conducted an inspection on baby food brands from the US.  ©Getty Images
South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) recently conducted an inspection on baby food brands from the US. ©Getty Images

Related tags South korea Baby food Inspection

South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) recently concluded a lead safety inspection on imported US baby food brands sold in the country and one product by US brand - Plum Organics – was found to contain lead exceeding permitted levels.

The product, Plum Organics’ Just Sweet Potato, is a stage 1 baby food puree made for babies four months old and above.

It was found to contain lead at 0.02 mg/kg, higher than the maximum permitted amount of 0.01 mg/kg.

On its website, the product, which comes in a resealable pouch format, claims to use only non-GMO and organic ingredients.

It is sold in South Korea via overseas e-commerce platforms.

Plum Organics was previously owned by the Campbell Soup Company. It was bought over by Sun-Maid Growers of California in March.

The MFDS inspected the amount of heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and inorganic arsenic on imported baby foods following a report released by the US.

On February 4, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, part of the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform, released a report​ showing that baby foods from well-known brands have been “tainted with dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals that endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function.”

A number of Plum Organics’ products, together with products from HappyBABY by Nurture Inc, Parent’s Choice by Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods owned by North Castle Partners, Gerber by Nestle etc were flagged as examples containing toxic heavy metals in the report.  

In response, the US FDA launched an action plan named “Closer to Zero”​ aimed at reducing exposure to toxic elements in foods commonly consumed by babies and young children to the lowest possible levels. 

US focus

The inspection is categorised into two parts: 1) the inspection of products bought from overseas e-commerce websites and 2) those imported into the country directly.

In total, the MFDS conducted inspection on 165 products, of which, 144 were bought from overseas e-commerce websites, including products from Gerber (41), HappyBABY (29), Beech-Nut (16), Earth’s Best Organic by Hain Celestial (12), Plum Organics (33), and Sprout Organic Foods (13).

Due to the inspection’s findings, the MFDS said it has notified the Korea Customs Service to block customs clearance for Plum Organics’ Just Sweet Potato.

Notably, this particular product was not flagged out in the report by the US Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.

According to the Korea Customs Service, there are different types of customs clearance for goods bought via overseas e-commerce.

For example, if a general transportation company transports and takes in the goods, the general import clearance procedures shall be applied.

If the goods are taken in through the post office, the customs clearance procedure for postal items shall be applied.

On the other hand, the ministry found that the baby foods directly imported into the country were in line with the maximum permitted lead level.

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