Reduce Arsenic Levels in Rice with Your Coffee Maker

Reader Contribution by Alec Weaver
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Scientists at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland may have found a tool that cleanses a large percentage of inorganic arsenic from rice: your coffee machine. Researchers found that preparing rice in a percolator can remove up to 85 percent of inorganic arsenic in rice. Until now, the recommendation has been to simply wash rice grains before cooking them; however, this method doesn’t remove significant portions of arsenic. Furthermore, when the rice is boiled, the rice is sitting in arsenic-laden water and the arsenic becomes fixed to the grain, exacerbating the problem. The percolation method however, circumvents both of these problems by simultaneously cleaning the rice while it is cooking. The water containing the arsenic is then collected in the coffee pot below and kept from the rice.

According to the researchers, the optimal cooking time for percolator rice is 20 minutes for white rice and 40 minutes for brown rice, which can be inconvenient. To remedy this, the same researchers are looking into creating a rice cooker that operates on the same principals of a percolator, but that recycles water through evaporation, leaving the arsenic and other particles behind and removing more than 85 percent of the arsenic from the grains.

Here in the U.S., rice farmers often use “chicken litter,” a combination of chicken manure, used bedding and spilled feed, to fertilize their crop. Inorganic arsenic is often added to chicken feed to help fend off infection and make the chicken’s meat appear pinker. Both the arsenic present in manure and spilled feed subsequently get taken up by the rice plant and end up in the grain.

While naturally occurring organic arsenic within the plant isn’t a concern for human consumption, inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen and has been linked to skin, lung, and bladder cancers. On average, studies have found that the U.S. population may be exposed to up to 0.08 μg/kg of inorganic arsenic per day, well below the 0.30 μg/kg per day that the EPA states is the amount threatening to health. Even at low levels, the presence of a carcinogen in such a food staple is troubling and, like many food concerns, the issue of arsenic in rice has its roots in industrial farming.

Due to the use of chicken litter as paddy fertilizer, rice grown in the U.S.  carries 1.4 to 5 times more arsenic than rice from Europe, India or Bangladesh. Currently the only federal limits on arsenic are for municipal tap water and apple juice, but, as it stands, there are no federal limits on arsenic in food. The newly proposed Reducing food-based Inorganic Compounds Exposure, or RICE act, however,would impose limits on the amount of arsenic in food. Until then, you might want to make your Mr. Coffee work a double shift.

Photo by Fotolia/kazoka303030

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