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Checking Cocoa and Cacao for Metal
Question: I asked the distributor of my cacao powder how it checks for metals. They say they do "foreign material detection" to capture "metal fragments." Is this adequate for checking cacao and cocoa for heavy metals, like cadmium, which you've found in other products?
Answer: No. What that company is describing has nothing to do with detecting elemental metal contamination (as we do) or removing that contamination. The company is describing the way they detect relatively large metal fragments that may be introduced during processing. Such fragments would then, typically, be removed by sifting.
As shown in our Dark Chocolate, Cocoa Powder and Nibs Review, heavy metal contamination is very common in cocoa and cacao powders and some dark chocolates. This contamination (typically with cadmium and/or lead) is not due to metal fragments but, most likely, the absorption by cocoa plants of metals in their environment (likely from pesticides and/or volcanic soil). Unfortunately, the levels of cadmium found are often very high -- suggesting that intake should be limited, and it does not seem possible to selectively remove these metals.