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New Mexico Officials Warn About Mexican Candies

Some candies popular among members of New Mexico's immigrant community have state health officials worried, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Just before the end of the school year, public schools were given posters warning about the ills of some chili-based candies, many of which are made in Mexico, because of their high lead content. Other public offices frequented by families also were given the posters.

The New Mexico Health Department distributed 1,000 posters, titled "Toxic Treats," as part of an awareness campaign. Yet the state is stopping short of calling for a withdrawal of candies from store shelves.

A statewide ban would be too difficult and costly to enforce, state health officials say. In Albuquerque, environmental health officials are making an effort to get the candies off the shelves in the city's stores. Some of the candies have been found to contain six to seven times the maximum amount of lead a person can safely consume in a day.

Across the country, a number of counties, cities and health departments have called for removal of the sweets, the newspaper reported. Masterfoods USA, a subsidiary of Mars Inc., issued the withdrawal of four products -- Super Lucas, Lucas Limon, Lucas Acidito and Lucas con chile. Since then, the company has retrieved more than 10.5 million of the orange and yellow containers.

“We think that is the vast majority of the products," said Alice Nathanson, a spokeswoman for New Jersey-based Masterfoods.

The perception that there was lead in the candy is what prompted the company to halt manufacturing at its plant in northeastern Mexico, Nathanson said. "We have always been confident in the safety of the seasonings," Nathanson said.

Varying levels of lead have been found in the candies portrayed on the New Mexico poster, although the reasons for the presence of lead differ. Ink used on some of the candy's wrappers contain lead, or the chili itself sometimes is not cleaned thoroughly enough to remove lead found in soil. Also, candies that contain tamarind -- tamarindo in Spanish -- are sticky, and pesticides tend to cling to them.

In 2004, the city of Albuquerque's Environmental Health Department took the state's advisory one step further. Last October, the department sent out its environmental health specialists to prowl stores for the candies and to inform shopkeepers to keep the candies off their shelves.

Now, aside from the occasional visit and sending a reminder to candy distributors, there is little else the department can do to keep the candy out of reach of customers, said Kasey Alexander, the department's epidemiologist.
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