Arsenic, the go-to poison of old-timey murderous spouses and hitmen, is suddenly all around us.This fall, Dr. Oz found it in apple juice. Then (after some drama), the FDA agreed there was cause for concern. Next, Consumer Reports added grape juice to the list. And just this month, arsenic turned up in rice. There currently aren’t any government guidelines specifically aimed at arsenic in juices but now they’re seriously being considered.This all begs multiple questions: What other foods containing arsenic are we ingesting (or feeding our kids), where is it coming from, and what, if anything, should we stop eating?A Deeper ProblemArsenic is an odorless, tasteless metalloid element that’s used in pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and wood preservers. Aaron Barchowsky, Ph.D., an environmental health professor at University of Pittsburg and a member of the Society of Toxicology says chronic, high-level exposure to arsenic in food or water is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. There’s no consensus on whether low levels of arsenic are eventually hazardous, especially to children.MORE: High Levels of Arsenic Found in Apple JuiceTo make matters confusing there are two types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. Inorganic arsenic is the arsenic element itself. Naturally occurring in the Earth’s crust, it is often found in water or soil. Organic arsenic is arsenic that has been chemically modified to contain carbon and hydrogen, and is also naturally occurring. When found in food, it passes through your body quickly without harm. In food and water sources, the inorganic kind is considered the troublemakerand it’s what caused the concern over both the Consumer Report and FDA juice samples.The inorganic form of the element typically makes its way into apple juice through contaminated water added in processing. (It’s the additional water that pumps a lot more arsenic into juice compared to whole, fresh fruit.)Most arsenic-based pesticides (though not fertilizers) have been banned in this country but residue sticks around in the environment for decades. The source can be a problem too: The Northeast and Southwest regions of the U.S. have higher arsenic levels than do other regions of the country, excluding other pockets of high exposure, such as Michigan and Oregon.Also, the Food Institute reports that 83 percent of the 400 million gallons of apple juice that Americans consume each year is from concentrate shipped from China, a country that still uses arsenic-based pesticides in some regions, and has high levels of arsenic in the soil in some apple-growing areas.One batch of final apple juice you pluck off the grocery store shelf can contain concentrate from multiple countries, making apple juice a “mystery meat” of sorts. Of course, foreign concentrate is not necessarily worse than concentrate from the U.S., so to protect consumers, all apple juice—imported and domestic—needs to be tested continually. MORE: Are You Drinking Safe Water?Apple juice may be the tip of the iceberg. According to Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., the director of the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group for “Consumer Reports,” rice is potentially problematic because it’s a crop that’s especially adept at siphoning arsenic from both the soil and groundwater. In some regions, it’s grown in old cotton fields where residue from pesticides and fertilizers can linger for decades. “If there are high levels of arsenic present, rice is very happy to take it up,” she says.In early December, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that pregnant women who reported consuming rice (at a median intake of half a cup, which is comparable to the national average) showed signs of increased arsenic exposure. The women in the study absorbed the equivalent of four and a quarter cups of water that contain arsenic at the maximum allowable level set by the EPA. And some ethnic groups eat far more rice than that. Asian Americans, for example, eat about two cups of rice per day.MORE: Can Pollutants Cause Obesity?Poultry is another food category that has consumer groups worried. Feeding chicks arsenic-laced feed to kill gut bacteria has been a widespread practice since the 1940’s, though recent FDA studies led a major distributor to voluntarily ban and improve its product. Most chicken feed contains a highly potent concentration of the less harmful organic form of arsenic, and while that may not contaminate the meat itself, the biggest risk likely comes from poultry waste, which makes its way into soil and water supplies. There, bacteria break down the arsenic into the more toxic, inorganic kind, causing further contamination.Meat, produce, wine and even baby food have been mentioned as other probable arsenic culprits, though some experts believe the risks have been largely mitigated in recent years. An overview of the research into how much arsenic may be creeping into our diet was included in the “Consumer Reports” story. “Our goal was to highlight the specific concerns about apple juice while at the same time, increase consumer awareness about the food supply in general,” Rangan says.Consumer ResponseSo do consumers care about this issue? It’s difficult to say. None of the grocery chains contacted for this article would comment although one manager of a Hannaford’s supermarket in upstate New York claimed he hasn’t received a single inquiry. However, Katherine Farrell Harris, a registered dietician says she’s begun hearing from her clients at the Manhattan Physician’s Group in New York City. “I’m getting a lot of questions about levels of arsenic in food,” she notes. “Clients want to know if they should worry and what they can do to cut their exposure.”It’s comforting to know that even the FDA’s biggest critics say consumers shouldn’t rush to eliminate any food from their diets. “Historically, the FDA hasn’t done the best job monitoring and controlling some of the hazards in the food supply, and they may not be doing it today but we need to be very careful before we say consumers should be concerned,” cautions Caroline DeWaal, the Food and Safety Director for the consumer advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We don’t have a good sense of how widespread the problem is so no one should get too worked up about this just yet.”QUIZ: How Healthy Are Your Habits?DeWaal says consumers can protect themselves by eating a wide variety of foods and frequently switching brands to minimize exposure due to a single source of arsenic. Washing produce and buying organic helps but since arsenic has been present in the environment for a long time, it can’t be entirely eliminated from the food chain.As for apple juice, experts say kids should limit the amount they drink anyway. “Arsenic aside, it’s packed with unnecessary amounts of calories and sugar,” Harris points out. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children consume no more than 8 ounces of juice per day. Other experts recommend cutting juice with water to dilute it.And there is one bright spot in the crusade against arsenic exposure. “The government has really tightened up its restrictions on arsenic in the water supply in recent decades so exposure from water in this country has decreased dramatically.” DeWaal says. “However, if you get your water from a well, test it periodically for all toxins.”