Baby food can contain arsenic: Swedish study

Certain types of baby food may contain elevated levels of manganese, arsenic, and cadmium, a new Swedish study shows.

Baby food can contain arsenic: Swedish study

According to a statement from the National Food Administration (Livsmedelsverket), the high levels may be due to the raw materials used in the production of the food, or to the fact that the products are enriched with manganese.

The products under analysis include infant formula and porridge.

While the tests were only carried out on a few samples, it’s too early to say that the risk of high levels of the substances applies generally.

Nevertheless, the fact that even one sample of baby food contained high levels of the substances is very serious, according to Emma Halldin Ankarberg, a toxicologist at the Food Administration.

“They aren’t so high that the reach to level of tolerable daily intake. But it’s still inappropriate that they are there. The risk is that small children are more sensitive than adults. When it comes to the levels of arsenic and cadmium, the levels aren’t high enough that one needs to panic,” Halldin Ankarberg told the TT news agency.

The tests, which were carried out by the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet, revealed high levels of manganese in infant formula intended for children with allergies. The porridges tested contained high levels of manganese, cadmium, and arsenic.

According to the Food Administration, it was rice-based products that posed the primary problem.

The agency explained that the high levels of manganese, cadmium, and arsenic in porridge were attributable to the raw materials used in its production. But because the tests were only done on one sample per product, it’s not possible to say that all porridge has the same elevated levels.

While cadmium and arsenic are poisonous, which likely comes from the raw materials used to make the baby food, manganese is added to the food an essential nutrient, but can nevertheless be harmful at high levels.

Halldin Ankarberg said that the baby food manufacturers have stayed under approved limits of manganese, but that the National Food Administration wants the European Commission and the European Food Safety Organisation (EFSA) to review the limits.

“We don’t believe that these companies have done anything wrong. But we want them to react to this report. You can’t just shrug it off, but take stock of it,” Jan Sjögren, head of the Food Administration’s inspection division, told TT.

The agency was swamped with calls from worried parents on Thursday morning.

“They understandably wonder what they should feed their children if they might aren’t able to give them infant formula,” said Sjögren.

The agency is now gathering data in order to get a better understanding of the problem as well as what measures may need to be taken and additional testing is currently underway.

“Currently we don’t know if it can cause adverse health effects, those need to be investigated further. In the meantime we are advising parents to consult their dieticians or doctors when choosing an infant formula with low levels of manganese,” Halldin Ankarberg said in a statement.

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Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Do you know your biskvi from your bakelse? Your chokladboll from your kanelbulle? Here's a guide guaranteed to get your mouth watering.

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden


The most famous of all Swedish cakes outside Sweden, the classic kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) is the symbol of Sweden abroad, no doubt helped by the fact that Swedish furniture giants IKEA stock frozen buns in their food stores for customers to bake off at home.

Forget American tear-apart cinnamon rolls baked in a pan and slathered with cream cheese frosting: a classic Swedish cinnamon bun is baked individually using a yeasted dough spread with cinnamon sugar and butter. The dough is then rolled up, sliced into strips which are then stretched out and knotted into buns, baked, glazed with sugar syrup and sprinkled with pearl sugar.

Home-made varieties skip the stretching and knotting step, rolling the cinnamon-sprinkled dough into a spiral instead which, although less traditional, tastes just as good.

Kanelbullar in Sweden often include a small amount of Sweden’s favourite spice: cardamom. If you’re a fan of cardamom, try ordering the kanelbulle‘s even more Swedish cousin, the kardemummabulle or cardamom bun, which skips the cinnamon entirely and goes all-out on cardamom instead.

Sweden celebrates cinnamon bun day (kanelbullens dag) on October 4th.

Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/


A great option if you want a smaller cake for your fika, the chokladboll or ‘chocolate ball’ is a perfect accompaniment to coffee – some recipes even call for mixing cold coffee into the batter.

They aren’t baked and are relatively easy to make, meaning they are a popular choice for parents (or grandparents) wanting to involve children in the cake-making process.

Chokladbollar are a simple mix of sugar, oats, melted butter and cocoa powder, with the optional addition of vanilla or coffee, or occasionally rum extract. They are rolled into balls which are then rolled in desiccated coconut (or occasionally pearl sugar), and placed in the fridge to become more solid.

Some bakeries or cafés also offer dadelbollar or rawbollar/råbollar (date or raw balls), a vegan alternative made from dried dates and nuts blended together with cocoa powder.

Chocolate ball day (chokladbollens dag) falls on May 11th.

Photo: Magnus Carlsson/


The lime-green prinsesstårta or ‘princess cake’ may look like a modern invention with it’s brightly-coloured marzipan covering, but it has been around since the beginning of the 1900s, and is named after three Swedish princesses, Margareta, Märta and Astrid, who were supposedly especially fond of the cake.

The cake consists of a sponge bottom spread with jam, crème pâtissière and a dome of whipped cream, covered in green marzipan and some sort of decoration, often a marzipan rose.

Prinsesstårtor can also be served in individual portions, small slices of a log which are then referred to as a prinsessbakelse.

Although the cakes are popular all year round, in the Swedish region of Småland, prinsesstårta is eaten on the first Thursday in March, due to this being the unofficial national day of the Småland region (as the phrase första torsdagen i mars is pronounced fössta tossdan i mass in the Småland dialect).

Since 2004, the Association of Swedish Bakers and Confectioners has designated the last week of September as prinsesstårtans vecka (Princess cake day).

Photo: Sinikka Halme, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.


Belonging to the more traditional cakes, a Budapestbakelse or “Budapest slice” is a type of rulltårta or “roll cake” similar to a Swiss roll, consisting of a light and crispy cake made from whipped egg whites, sugar and hazelnut, filled with whipped cream and fruit, often chopped conserved peaches, nectarines or mandarines, and rolled into a log.

The log is then sliced into individual portions and drizzled with chocolate, then often topped with whipped cream and a slice of fruit. 

Despite its name, the Budapest slice has nothing to do with the city of Budapest – it was supposedly invented by baker Ingvar Strid in 1926 and received the name due to Strid’s love for the Hungarian capital.

Of course, the Budapestbakelse also has its own day – May 1st.

Kanelbullar (left), chokladbollar (centre) and biskvier (right). Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/


Another smaller cake, a biskvi (pronounced like the French biscuit), consists of an almond biscuit base, covered in buttercream (usually chocolate flavoured), and dark chocolate.

Different variants of biskvier exist, such as a Sarah Bernhardt, named after the French actress of the same name, which has chocolate truffle instead of buttercream.

You might also spot biskvier with white chocolate, often with a hallon (raspberry) or citron (lemon) filling, or even saffransbiskvier around Christmastime.

Chokladbiskviens dag is celebrated on November 11th.