ASK DR. H: Mercury contamination and high fructose corn syrup

Q: A friend of mine told me that certain foods made using high fructose corn syrup may be contaminated with mercury. What are those foods? Why isn’t the FDA doing something about it? – V.W., Philadelphia

A: What you’re referring to is a study published in the Jan. 26, 2009, issue of Environmental Health that found mercury (a known poison to the brain and nervous system) contamination in nine out of 20 foods containing high fructose corn syrup.

High fructose corn syrup has largely replaced cane sugar in many foods we eat every day, ranging from soft drinks to ketchup. The research was actually conducted in 2005, and representatives from the Corn Refiners Association say that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) manufacturers have stopped using mercury in production years ago.

Why would mercury be used at all? Apparently, some HFCS manufacturers use or have used a mercury-based caustic chemical to separate corn starch from the corn kernel. And while the Corn Refiners Association states that mercury is no longer used in HFCS production, the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy conducted its own small, regional study in the fall of 2008 where it tested 55 name-brand foods and beverages where HFCS was the first or second ingredient.

They found mercury in the following 17 samples: Quaker Oatmeal to Go; Jack Daniel’s Barbeque Sauce; Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup; Kraft Original Barbeque Sauce; Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars; Manwich Bold Sloppy Joe; Market Pantry Grape Jelly; Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly; Pop-Tarts Frosted Blueberry; Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup; Wishbone Western Sweet and Smooth; Coca Cola Classic; Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt; Minute Maid Berry Punch; Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drink; Nesquik Chocolate Milk; and Kemps Fat Free Chocolate Milk.

Study weaknesses are: 1) the type of mercury was not identified — elemental mercury is much less toxic than methylmercury; 2) the levels detected all appear to be well below the EPA’s safe exposure level; and 3) only one sample of each product was tested. (Source:

FDA press officer Michael Herndon said his agency “takes mercury contamination very seriously” but doesn’t believe the study in Environmental Health provides “any specific information or sufficient analysis to reach the conclusion that there is any appreciable risk from this potential exposure from mercury.” Nonetheless, if you have concerns of mercury contamination of our food, contact the FDA and your local congressman.

Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: “Ask Dr. H,” P.O. Box 767787, Roswell, GA 30076. Because of the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.

2 comments Add your comment


September 30th, 2009
4:27 pm

No mercury or mercury-based technology is used in the production of high fructose corn syrup in North America.

The American public can rest assured that high fructose corn syrup is safe. Safety is the highest priority for our industry, which is why we immediately commissioned external testing as well as independent expert review of claims concerning mercury and our corn sweetener.

Woodhall Stopford, MD, MSPH, of Duke University Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading experts in mercury contamination, reviewed the results of total mercury testing of samples of high fructose corn syrup conducted by Eurofins Central Analytical Laboratory (Metairie, LA) in February and March 2009. Dr. Stopford concluded:

•No quantifiable mercury was detected in any of the samples analyzed.
•High fructose corn syrup does not appear to be a measureable contributor to mercury in foods.
Click here for more information or visit

Audrae Erickson
Corn Refiners Association


October 20th, 2009
1:08 pm

Try Chef Hymie Grande BBQ Sauces – No HFCS, No Processed sugars, vegan friendly & American Diabetes Association on the label.