Mercury in Your Favorite Snacks?

You may already know about mercury in tuna fish and other fish, but if you like sweets more than fish, the latest news is even worse: there could be mercury in many favorite snacks that are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Never heard of HFCS? That’s what has replaced sugar in many popular foods in your supermarket, such soft drinks, yogurt, cookies, ice cream, salad dressing, and even soup.[1]

What is Mercury and Who is at Risk?

Mercury can potentially cause brain damage in any of its forms – whether it is inhaled, absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes, or consumed in food and drinks.[2]

Pregnant women and children are at great risk when exposed to mercury. High levels of mercury in the womb may impair neurological development and with hearing or eyesight.[3][4] Is there a “safe” level of exposure to mercury? In 2004, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a fish consumption advisory that suggests young children and pregnant females consume up to 12 ounces a week of lower-mercury fish. The FDA and EPA are working include the more recent science to update the consumption advisory.[5]

What Studies Have Found 

A major study published in 2009 by Renee Dufault, a former FDA scientist, reported in a health journal that 9 of 20 samples of commercial HFCS had detectable levels of mercury.[6] Caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, alpha-amylase, glucoamylase, isomerase, filter aid, powdered carbon, calcium chloride, and magnesium sulfate are the ingredients to make HFCS.[6]

Another study conducted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found 18 of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products that listed HFCS as the first or second ingredient was found to contain it.[7]

This contamination of HFCS with mercury results from certain types of technology that are used in the making of HFCS. It has been noted by Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, that companies have been using mercury-free versions of HFCS.[8]

What Should You Do?

Mercury is not the only reason to be concerned about HFCS. A recent longitudinal study has linked HFCS to diabetes and obesity[9], but more research is still needed to determine exact risks of HFCS. Our suggestion is you should read food labels if you want to reduce your consumption of HFCS. You can also contact your Members of Congress to ask the FDA to continue the study of risks from HFCS.

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.


  1. Federal Drug & Food Administration. (2018). Retrieved March 30, 2018  from:
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2018). RetrievedMarch 30, 2018 from:  
  3. Mayo Clinic. (2018). Retrieved March 30, 2018 from:
  4. Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Advice About Eating Fish, From the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration; Revised Fish Advice; Availability. Washington, D.C.: Federal Register.
  5. Dufault, R., LeBlanc, B., Schnoll, R., Cornett, C., Schweitzer, L., Wallinga, D., Lukiw, W. (2009). Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: Measured concentrations in food product sugar. Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source, 8, 2-2. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-8-2.
  6. Wallinga, David & Sorensen, Janelle & Mottl, Pooja & Yablon, Brian. (2018). Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup. Retrieved March 30, 2018 from:
  7. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2015). Retrieved March 30, 2018 from:
  8. Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury. (2009). Washington Post. Retrieved March 30, 2018 from:
  9. Bahadoran, Z., Mirmiran, P., Tohidi, M., & Azizi, F. (2017). Longitudinal associations of high-Fructose diet with cardiovascular events and potential risk factors: Tehran lipid and glucose study. Nutrients, 9(12), 872-872. doi:10.3390/nu9080872