Getting The Lead Out

I didn’t read about this in the Bismarck Tribune. I didn’t see it on KXMB or KFYR’s 6 o’clock news, and I didn’t hear it on Joel Heitkamp’s News and Views radio show. Apparently it wasn’t very big news here. But I just knew that there was a story out there, and I couldn’t get to the bottom of it. No one was reporting it. It was a mystery. Something was missing in my life and no one knew where it went.

Then, Saturday, I went to the mall. I’m not a regular mall-goer. I go once a year, and Saturday was the day. Christmas shopping. And my route took me right past Northwoods Candy Emporium. Aha, I thought, here I might find the answer. I went in and looked down each aisle, No luck. But I was the only one in the store at the moment, and so I mustered up all my courage and walked up to the fellow minding the store, and said “You probably know more about candy than anyone in Bismarck. I have a question.” He shrugged his shoulders modestly and said “What can I do for you?”

“What happened to Snaps®?”

“Well, they’ve been recalled,” was the reply. “They found lead in them or something like that.”

Huh. Bam. Just like that. Snaps® recalled. How can it be? Is nothing sacred? Lead? How do you get lead in Snaps®?

And then, a cold sweat. Lead? How much lead? My God, I must have eaten a hundred thousand Snaps® in my lifetime. Lead? Could that explain why my weight keeps creeping up? Do I have big lump of lead in my belly somewhere. Kind of looks like it, when I stand sideways to a mirror. Lead is bad. I don’t use lead shotgun shells any more. Paint with lead in it can’t be sold any more. But lead in Snaps? How could that be? And why didn’t I know about it?

I’m serious about a hundred thousand Snaps®. It’s one of my dirty little secrets. Lillian knows I like them, but she has no idea how many of them I eat. Or used to. I’ve been buying them for more than 50 years, ever since they sold for two cents in a little red cardboard box at Dale’s Variety Store in Hettinger. There were probably 20 of them in a box. And man, I bought a lot of boxes. My taste for Snaps® never went away, especially the white ones. Some of my friends said the pink ones were best, but I always liked the white ones. What, you say, they all taste the same? Hardly! I guarantee you I can close my eyes and pop a Snap® in my mouth and tell you if it is a white one or not. Anyone know what the other colors are? First correct answer in the comments section below get a free bag from me when, or if, they come back (the manufacturer, the American Licorice Company, has promised their return by the end of the year).

The two-cent box went the way of all penny candy sometime in my youth, replaced by a nickel bag, then a quarter bag (the same size, I think) and lately, until August of this year, a  bag weighing four or five ounces, I suppose, for a couple bucks. Oh, yeah, and a theater box that costs about seventeen dollars.

So what happened in August? Well, apparently a scientist at the California Department of Public Health, during a routine test, found an unacceptably high level of lead in black licorice candy manufactured by American Licorice. Unacceptable meaning more than .1 part per million. Lead is very bad stuff if it is consumed by humans and other living things. The CDPH notified American Licorice and the company issued a voluntary recall. Here’s what they had to say:

On 8/22, we were notified by the California Dept. of Public Health (CDPH) that they had detected trace amounts of lead in one batch of our black licorice (16 oz. Bags of Black Licorice Twists with “Best Before Date 020413” printed on the label) that exceeded the amount of lead that they deem safe for candy products.

At that time we issued a voluntary product recall of this batch of licorice and immediately launched an extensive internal investigation to get to the root of the issue, including additional testing of our raw ingredients, products, equipment and water lines, in an attempt to identify what caused the elevated levels of lead. Our testing suggests that slightly elevated levels of lead above the recommended maximum levels of lead for young children may also be found in some recent batches of Red Vines Black Licorice Twists, Family Mix, Mixed Bites and Snaps. No detectable lead was found in recent testing of Sugar Free Black Licorice.

 I noticed that they were gone right away, although I didn’t know why Snaps® had disappeared. You see, to this day, I still bought Snaps® pretty regularly. I always had a hard time finding them. But the CENEX station on West Divide Avenue had them hanging on their candy rack, and I usually ducked in a bought a bag when I filled up with gas. About once a week. I liked to munch on them when I was making my rounds as the ranger at the Bismarck public golf courses. And I often took them on my canoe and camping trips, when I was going to be out on the river or trail more than a day or two. Because not only do I like Snaps®, but they have some medicinal qualities, for me at least, as well. The black licorice helps keep me regular, if you know what I mean, on those forays into the outdoors.

Well, one day last summer, the rack at CENEX contained no Snaps®. And then the next time I went to get gas, and the next time, and I kept checking in there every time I got gas, but no Snaps®. And I never knew why, until the candy store clerk in the mall told me Saturday.

Now, it looks like there is good news ahead. Here’s what’s on American Licorice’s website right now, dated October 25:

Dear Consumers,

We are happy to share that Red Vines® Family Mix and Red Vines® Black Licorice Twist items began shipping to retailers on October 22nd and will be available on the shelves of your favorite stores in mid- to-late November.  We are planning for Snaps® to be back on shelves later this year.

Since initiating the recall in August we’ve worked closely with the FDA, significantly increasing the depth and frequency of our internal quality testing, tightening our standards with ingredient suppliers and launching an extensive internal investigation of ingredients, equipment, and finished products.

As a result of the investigation, the FDA has classified the recall as a Class II, meaning that the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote, and initial health hazard evaluations for Red Vines® Black Licorice and Snaps® found that health risks from consuming black licorice with slightly elevated levels of lead are negligible.

You can learn about the FDA’s recall classification system at the link below:

We greatly appreciate your support for our company and products over the years and deeply value your loyalty.  We will continue our dedication to making delicious candy with a goal of always being better tomorrow than we are today.

Best, American Licorice Company

The candy store guy at the mall says he hasn’t been notified when he’ll get his new supply. When he does, he’ll sell them in bulk from his jars, like he does a hundred or so other kinds of candy. He’s going to be my new friend. Because I’m not sure, but my guess is that they’ll be cheaper there than they are in pre-packaged bags at Cenex. Looks like I’ll be going to the mall more than once a year now.

8 thoughts on “Getting The Lead Out

  1. Oh Jim, you are too funny. Love your blogs. I was just in a candy store yesterday in the Old Market here in Omaha with my grandson Skyler. We purchased black licorice wheels, those little wax bottles with colored water in them, and candy cigarettes. (surprised they still make them). But I did not see Snaps, now I know why. Thanks for the info.


  2. The new snaps are awful. I could tell something was different when I opened the bag and they looked different. The coating is heavier and doesn’t have the same texture and flavor. The licorice doesn’t have the same texture either and it doesn’t taste as good. I understand there was a lead problem. I can see trying to reduce the lead, but why change the product completely. It said it has a new softer, chewy center. I will give them that. The old Snaps sometimes got a little hard, but that is the price you pay for the awesome flavor. I just wonder if some bean counters at the company took this opportunity to change the product to reduce costs and increase profits. If this is the new Snaps, then I will never buy Snaps again. Hmmmm.lead problem solved.


    1. Yes the new Snaps are just not the same, will never buy them again. To bad a life long memory is now just a memory.


  3. I agree with the comment that the new Snaps are not the same. I have been enjoying this candy for at least 65 years and I hate the replacement product. I am disappointed in the American Licorice Company’s decision in the product they are now producing. If they read this blog, I hope they try to reproduce the flavor of my favorite candy.


  4. I was unfortunate in buying four bags when I saw them once again at Walgreen’s. I really don’t like them! I ate them because I bought them but it just wasn’t the same.

    I did buy something in bulk from a candy store that they called Snaps and the coating was very heavy (also had an extra color … purple). You bite into them and the coating flakes off … but the licorice is more like the “old” Snaps. I don’t know if these are really from American Licorice Company; I don’t know if they could use the name “Snaps” if they weren’t. But they’re definitely different than the bag variety.

    Does anyone else dislike the pink ones as much as I do? I wouldn’t have minded if they’d changed the flavor of those. The pink ones purchased in bulk didn’t have the same distasteful flavor as those from the bag.


  5. I will miss the originals as well … I find the replacements palatable but definitely different. I wonder where the raw ingredients come from? Perhaps one of the suppliers was to blame. I wonder if they can revert back to the old recipe or if, in the process of removing the lead, they had to change equipment or other processes which irreparably changed the candy forever. I guess we’ll never know the whole story but it is, nonetheless, the end of a candy era. I used to buy the little red boxes too when I was a kid (1960’s).


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