Everything you need to know about Cadmium and Lead in Chocolate

We frequently get asked if our cacao has been lab tested for lead and cadmium, and if it is safe.

The short answer is yes to both questions. Our comprehensive testing actually tests for 68 different heavy metals and we are well below the legal thresholds.

The long answer? It's fascinating. Read on to learn about the California Prop 65 and European Union regulations that set clear limits for lead and cadmium in food products. We'll also dive into our test results and why exactly we believe our products are safer than the average chocolate product, to give you full transparency and real numbers to look at.

Many people don’t know that Prop 65 was amended in 2018 as a result of a settlement of a law suit by As You Sow against chocolate manufacturers. Originally the suit was brought against Trader Joes in November 2015, but because manufacturers and not retailers bear the obligation of Prop 65 compliance, the suit was brought against some of the major chocolate manufacturers: Barry Callebaut USA, LLC, Blommer Chocolate Co., Cargill, Inc., The Hershey Company, Lindt & Sprungli (including its affiliated company Ghiradelli Chocolate Company), Guittard Chocolate Company, Mars Incorporated, Mondelez International, and Nestle USA.

The settlement of the lawsuit in 2018 acknowledged that original Prop 65 thresholds were set too low for naturally occurring levels of cadmium and lead in chocolate, effectively resulting with most commonly available chocolate in violation of Prop 65. The amended thresholds based on the latest science brought Prop 65 to a similar set of regulations as determined by the European Union as well. This settlement has become the industry standard by which lead and cadmium thresholds in chocolate are evaluated, and all manufacturers (like ourselves) are encouraged to regularly test for these heavy metals. This below chart lists the concentrations above which a warning is required in parts per million (ppm) for years 2019-2025, and then a decreased concentration which will be effective from 2025 onwards.

Cacao percentage in product

Prop 65 Cadmium Concentration Threshold

Prop 65 Lead Concentration Threshold

Up to 65%

0.400 ppm / 0.320ppm

0.100 ppm / 0.065 ppm

More than 65% and up to 95%

0.450 ppm / 0.400 ppm

0.150 ppm / 0.100 ppm

More than 95%

0.960 ppm / 0.800 ppm

0.225 ppm / 0.200 ppm

 

The 2019 EU regulations are similar, even though slightly differently defined. Their metric units are in mg/kg - fortunately 1 mg/kg = 1 ppm, making the translation 1:1. They define a maximum of 0.80 mg/kg, or 0.80 ppm, for cacao percentages of 50% and up.

Given these regulations, what does our own third party testing show? Our test results are as follows:

Firefly Cacao source

Cadmium Concentration (ppm)

Lead Concentration (ppm)

Belize (Maya Mountain Cacao)

0.3 ppm

<0.05 ppm

Colombia (Arhuacos)

 0.1 ppm

<0.05 ppm

Guatemala (ADEMAYACH)

0.3 ppm

<0.05 ppm

Tanzania (Kokoa Kamili)

0.1 ppm

<0.01 ppm

 

You can see that all of our origins fall significantly below the 0.960ppm threshold for Cadmium and 0.225ppm threshold for lead currently specified in Prop 65. So you can rest assured that you won’t poison yourself with cadmium and lead from drinking your daily cup of cacao, and that instead more likely you will benefit from the many beneficial trace minerals present in cacao, like Magnesium, Zinc, and Manganese! (read more on cacao health here)

Why is our cacao so much safer than other chocolate products out there?

We don't know for sure, but Cadmium is a great case study. Science shows that Cadmium uptake is dependent on many variables, including cacao genotype, cacao tree age, and other trace metals present in the soil. Notably, the more depleted the soil is of other beneficial minerals such such as Zn, Ca, Mg, and Mn, and the younger the trees are, the higher the Cadmium uptake is. Because our cacao sourcing is focused more on quality than quantity, it is not farmed as intensively as the majority of global monoculture cacao production. Rather, our trees tend to be older and within polyculture agroforestry systems with rich soils - all factors that reduce cadmium uptake.

Cacao Tree Heavy Metals Cadmium Uptake

It’s also interesting to note that cadmium is first accumulated in leaves, then pod husks, then cacao beans (the edible part). Proper handling and shelling of cacao bean can remove the husk, which has a higher concentration than the edible part, the bean. We take great care in our cracking and winnowing process to remove as much shell as possible, which also reduces cadmium concentration in the final product.

Hopefully this helps your understanding of the regulations and science behind cadmium and lead in chocolate products. The regulations and rules are ever changing so we'll keep this page updated, and we'll also list any changes in our test results with new imports.