Thousands of customers flock to Trader Joe's, largely because of its wide range of grocery options, affordable prices — and the nearly endless selection of snacks.
And while you may think grabbing a dark chocolate bar off of the shelf is the healthier option, a recent Consumer Reports (CR) study shows that those chocolate bars may actually expose you to harmful chemicals like lead and cadmium.
For the study, CR tested 28 dark chocolate bars, which are commonly suggested for their heart health benefits, to measure the levels of heavy metals. Lead and cadmium were detected in all of the products.
To determine which chocolates posed the most risk, CR used California's maximum allowable dose level (MADL) for lead and cadmium as a base. Any product with a percentage over 100% for either chemical exceeds the MADL.
Some Trader Joe's favorites were on the list of products that the study found to have high levels of those chemicals.
- Trader Joe's: Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao (192% of the lead MADL) and The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate 85% Cacao (127% of the lead MADL, 229% of the cadmium MADL)
- Hershey: Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate (265% of the lead MADL)
- Lindt: Excellence Dark Chocolate
85% Cocoa (166% of the lead MADL) and Excellence Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa (116% of the cadmium MADL)
- Godiva: Signature Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao (146% of the lead MADL)
- Dove: Promises Deeper Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao (112% of the cadmium MADL)
Low-level lead exposure can have severe impacts on children's cognitive abilities, according to Dr. Fred Henretig, senior toxicologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
And being exposed to high levels of lead may cause weakness, anemia and kidney or brain damage, affecting children more than adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, "when eaten, large amounts of cadmium can severely irritate the stomach and cause vomiting and diarrhea," the agency says.
CNBC Make It reached out to each of the five brands for comment.
A representative from Godiva said, "Consumers can be assured that all GODIVA products are safe, and that our products follow all relevant government regulations," adding that, "Any detectable amounts of these metals are naturally occurring and are not a result of manufacturing or shipping processes."
Hershey also followed up stating: "We do not add cadmium or lead to our products, and we work closely with our suppliers to minimize their presence in our products. Consumers can rest assured that they may continue to enjoy Hershey products safely."
A Lindt & Sprüngli spokesperson told CNBC Make It, "Food safety and high quality are paramount for the entire Lindt & Sprüngli Group. All of our products cited in the Consumer Reports study meet strict quality and food safety requirements and are safe to consume."
Trader Joe's and Dove didn't provide an immediate response to comment.
The results of the Consumer Reports study do show that while the presence of heavy metals in dark chocolate is common, it is not always at the levels that pose the most risk.
For example, brands like Taza Chocolate and Ghiradelli are listed in the study as "safe choices" because their levels of lead and cadmium fall below California's MADL.
And while researchers continue to work on addressing the contamination, there are steps experts say you can take to enjoy a dark chocolate treat safely, like:
- reaching for dark chocolates that have low cacao percentages
- being mindful of your overall chocolate consumption
- eating a well-rounded diet