Tag Archives: consumer safety

New Limits Proposed for Arsenic in Apple Juice

By Kim Smiley

The FDA recently proposed a new limit for the amount of arsenic allowed in apple juice.  The proposed limit would match what has already been established for bottled water.  This marks the first time that the FDA has established an arsenic limit for food or drinks other than water.

This issue can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  A Cause Map lays out the causes that contribute to an issue in an intuitive, visual format so that the cause-and-effect relationships are obvious.  The first step of the process is to fill in an Outline with the basic background information for an issue.  The Outline also documents the impacts that the issue is having on the organizational goals so that the full effect of the issue can be clearly understood.  In this example, the concern that consumers may be exposed to arsenic, a known carcinogen, is an impact to the safety goal.  The media hype surrounding this issue is also important to consider because consumer concern could impact sales.

After the Outline is complete, the next step is to ask “why” questions and use the answers to build the Cause Map.  So why is there arsenic in apple juice?  Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance that is found in the environment.  There are also places that have been contaminated by arsenic, primarily the result of arsenic-based pesticides.  Use of arsenic-based pesticides in the US ended by 1970, but parts of the world still use them.

To understand this issue, it’s also important to understand the public relationships portion of  the puzzle. The concern over arsenic in apple juice exploded after the issue was featured on the “The Dr. Oz Show” in 2011.  Outcry after the segment was well covered by major media outlets and the issue has repeatedly made headlines over the past two years. Consumer Reports has also issued a report about samples of apple juice that test above the limit for drinking water.  None of this can possibly be good for the apple juice business.

The final step of the Cause Mapping process is to use the Cause Map to develop solutions.  A limit for arsenic in apple juice should go a long way to easing concerns if it is established.  The proposal is to set the limit for arsenic in apple juice to match that for drinking water, which should be conservative since consistent consumption of more apple juice than water seems unlikely.   Producers of apple juice that is found to contain arsenic above the limit could face legal action and the juice could be removed from the market.  How much the new limit will actually impact the products on the shelf is unclear because different sources have reported widely different sample results, but at least action could be taken if any juice is found to have arsenic levels above the limit.


ER Visits Due to Consumption of Energy Drinks More Than Doubled

By ThinkReliability Staff

Consuming high levels of caffeine can lead to various health concerns that may require emergency medical attention.  According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration: “Consumption of energy drinks is a rising public health problem because medical and behavioral consequences can result from excessive caffeine intake.”  Energy drinks can contain extremely high levels of caffeine, which are not required to be listed on the  label.  Emergency room visits due to consumption of high-caffeine level energy drinks more than doubled from 2007 to 2011.

The issues associated with consumption of energy drinks can be documented in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  We begin with the impacts to the goals; the safety goal is impacted due to the health risks.  Additionally, increased ER visits and media attention to the issue can be considered impacts to various organizations’ goals.

Beginning with the impacts to the goals, asking “Why” questions allows us to uncover the cause-and-effect relationships that lead to these concerns.  Consuming high levels of caffeine can lead to health concerns, including dehydration, headaches, and even seizures.  Most energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine – equivalent to the caffeine in several cups of coffee – but are not required to list the amount of caffeine on the label.  Because some of these beverages are marketed extolling positive health effects, consumers may be unaware of potential risks.  Because some energy drinks are sometimes considered beverages  and sometimes are considered dietary supplements, regulation is limited.

More attention is being called to this issue, along with calls for more regulation and requiring disclosure of the amounts of  caffeine in energy drinks in the hopes that with more information, both to consumers and healthcare professionals, will result in fewer emergency health concerns.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.

Accidentally Ingested Wire Bristles

By Kim Smiley

There have been a number of documented cases of people accidentally swallowing wire bristles from the brushes commonly used to clean grills.  If ingested, the bristles can cause significant pain and have the potential to puncture organs, including the intestine which can lead to dangerous infections.  There isn’t a lot of data available to determine how often this occurs, but a recent report discussing six cases of ingested wire bristles at a single hospital in a one year period hint that this may be more common than many realize.

This issue can be analyzed by building a Cause Map or visual root cause analysis.  The first step in creating a Cause Map is to determine how the issue impacts the overall goals of an organization.  In this example, we’ll consider the organization the general public and the main impacted goal is the safety goal since there is a risk of serious health issues.  Causes are now added to the Cause Map by asking “why” questions.  Why is there a risk of serious health issues?  Because there is the potential to swallow a wire bristle and the wire bristle can do a lot of damage within the body.   (To view a high level Cause Map of this issue, click “Download PDF” above.)

Continuing the “why” questions, we would now ask “why” is there a potential to swallow a wire bristle?  This possibilities exists because people may inadvertently swallow the bristles without realizing it, the bristles come from wire brushes that are often used to clean residential grills and the bristles sometimes fall out of the brushes and stick to the grill.  People may inadvertently ingest the bristles because the bristles can stick to meat and the texture can hide the presence of the bristle.  Many people are also unaware of the potential danger of eating a wire bristle so they aren’t looking to find bristles.  Investigation into this issue has not found any defects that are causing bristles to fall out.  No one brand or type of grill brushes has been singled out as the culprit in these causes, but a worn grill brush is more likely to shed bristles than a new brush.

All six patients in the report did make full recoveries after treatment.  In three of the cases, the wire bristles were stuck in the throat and required only laryngoscopic removal; the other three cases required more invasive surgery to remove the object.

The best way to protect yourself from the possibility of this occurring is to inspect the grill after using a wire grill brush or to find another method to clean your grill.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked that medical professions or consumers report any incidents of swallow grill brush bristles to http://www.saferproducts.gov to help monitor this issue.