Let’s Chat Rice Cereal and Arsenic – Fact or Fiction?

Birdseye view of a small bowl of white rice on a neutral background

Over the years there have been several studies published looking at arsenic in rice products.

This naturally leads to news articles being published. Concern amongst the community grows and with that interest there is also a spike in blogs, articles and Instagram posts telling parents that they shouldn’t be feeding their children rice because it is toxic.

So, do you need to be concerned about arsenic in your baby’s food? Before you swear off sushi let’s dig a little deeper.

Most recently, there was a study undertaken by an RMIT University PhD student in 2020 that looked at arsenic in Australian supermarket foods and tested the levels. Although the products they tested met Australia standards, many were higher than the levels allowed in the European Union. Once again, wellness gurus stampeded to the pantry to throw out their rice crackers and proclaimed that parents should avoid infant rice cereal at all costs! But as always with nutrition, it isn’t that black and white.

Have you heard of FSANZ? Probably not, most people haven’t, but FSANZ stands for Food Standards Australia New Zealand and they are responsible for developing and enforcing food standards in Australia. In a nutshell, it is their job to make sure our food is safe. In 2017 off the back of several studies looking at arsenic in commercial rice products (specifically foods marketed at or available to children) they conducted research looking at 200 rice products and tested the arsenic levels (1). From what they tested 80% did have arsenic in them but at a rate much lower than the Australian limits allowed and only two products had higher levels than the EU limits.

So, what does this mean? This mean in general you don’t need to be stressing about arsenic in your baby’s food. If you’re feeding your bub large amounts of rice or rice products several times a day, then it would probably be a good idea to look at ways to reduce the rice to make sure there is a little more variety. More than the arsenic, the large amount of rice would likely be filling them up and making it hard to get in other important nutrients like protein, iron, fats, vitamins and minerals needed for their quickly growing bodies.

But what about rice-based formulas?

For many parents of allergy babies, it is impossible to offer an alternative to rice based infant formulas. Parents of allergy bubs can also rest easy though; you don’t need to be worried. FSANZ has reviewed the research and undertakes extensive monitoring of arsenic in cereal based infant products, which continues to show levels of arsenic are below the maximum permitted levels in Australia. There is also research supporting very low levels in hydrolysed infant rice formulas (2).

So, the take home:

You don’t need to be fearful of offering your bub rice or rice products because of arsenic toxicity. Yes, rice naturally has more arsenic in it than some other plants because of the way it is grown, it takes in and absorbs more from the ground. But, there are strict limits around food safety when it comes to what is sold to us on supermarket shelves here in Australia including arsenic levels. Offer rice as part of a balanced and varied diet where you can. Just like any other food, too much of anything isn’t good for us and for babies with little tummies rice 5 times a day is likely taking the place of some other important foods. Unless you’re serving your bub kilos of rice a day you definitely don’t need to worry and those rice crackers can stay put in the pantry.

  1. Ellen Ashmore, Sarah Molyneux, Seamus Watson, Geoff Miles & Andrew Pearson (2019) Inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products in New Zealand and Australia, Food Additives & Contaminants: Part B, 12:4, 275-279, DOI: 10.1080/19393210.2019.1651403
  2. Meyer R, Carey MP, Turner PJ, Meharg AA. Low inorganic arsenic in hydrolysed rice formula used for cow's milk protein allergy. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2018 Aug;29(5):561-563. doi: 10.1111/pai.12913. Epub 2018 May 29. PMID: 29701313.