What are heavy metals?

The definition of heavy metals is not clearly stated in the literature. In public, all chemical elements grouped under the generic term "heavy metals" are often considered toxic substances. However, many of the elements so designated are, in small quantities, vital for humans and are therefore also called essential trace elements (e.g. iron, zinc and manganese). Lead, mercury and cadmium are not essential. They can be hazardous to health if they are ingested with food.1

Legal requirements

For individual food or raw materials maximum levels for different metals are legally regulated in the following regulations:

Cadmium in cocoa and chocolate products

Many fine flavoured cocoa varieties come from growing areas in Latin America whose volcanic soils naturally have high cadmium contents. The cocoa plant absorbs the cadmium through its roots and thus reaches the cocoa fruit. Chocolates with a high cocoa content in particular therefore have an increased cadmium content. 2

Since 1 January 2019, the maximum levels for certain cocoa and chocolate products have been regulated in the Contaminant Maximum Levels Regulation (EC) 1881/2006. Depending on the cocoa content, maximum levels for cadmium in chocolate are set at between 0.1-0.8 mg/kg and 0.6 mg/kg for cocoa powder.


The ifp offers elemental analysis using ICP-MS (mass spectrometry with inductively coupled plasma) and AAS (atomic absorption spectrometry) for food, feed and water, among other things. In addition to heavy metals, minerals and other metals can also be determined analytically.

The following is an extract from our metal analysis:

Typical contaminants:

  • cadmium
  • lead
  • mercury
  • arsenic
  • and others

Essential trace elements:

  • cobalt
  • iron
  • copper
  • nickel
  • zinc
  • molybdenum
  • manganese
  • tin
  • and others

For arsenic we also offer the examination of the individual arsenic species.

1 Minerals A.Hahn/ J.-P. Schuchardt BEHR'S Verlag
2 https://www.ua-bw.de/pub/beitrag.asp?subid=1&ID=1455