A survey from 'Consumer Reports' earlier this year found that dangerous levels of arsenic are prevalent in 15 percent of 200-plus rice samples — particularly in brown rice and rice that's grown in the South Central region of the United States. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released the first results of an ongoing study of arsenic in more than 1,300 rice products.

The results show that brown rice has a relatively high amount of arsenic, as do rice pasta and rice cakes. Most rice products on the list, however, had levels that were "too low to cause immediate health damage." This is good news for many fair-weather rice eaters, but those of us who eat it at every meal can't ignore the long-term risks of arsenic in rice, which the FDA is still studying. Overexposure to arsenic over time (usually over five years) can cause the skin to change color, break out in lesions, and hard patches to develop on the palms and the soles of feet. These are usually precursors to skin cancer.

To be safe, follow some of the guidelines developed by Kit Kiefer, president of the Research Chefs Association, which was involved with the original 'Consumer Reports' study. He recommends eating no more than half a cup of rice per week; cooking rice with a 6:1 water-to-rice ratio (arsenic is water soluble) to flush toxins; and avoiding rice grown in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and China. Beyond rice, be sure to wash or peel vegetables that can still contain soil with arsenic, such as broccoli and potatoes; avoid apple juice and concentrates from China, which have been shown to contain arsenic; and prioritize buying organic chicken and pork, since some factory farms have been documented as giving animals arsenic-containing feed.