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High arsenic levels found in rice & rice products - moderation recommended

r
racer x Sep 19, 2012 11:18 AM

What some are calling high levels of inorganic arsenic have been found in samples of rice and rice products (eg Rice Krispies and Geber's infant cereal) tested by Consumer Reports and the Illinois Attorney General's office. The FDA is conducting a larger study, but in preliminary results the agency says it has found roughly similar results.

Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen (bladder, lung, and skin cancers) when consumed in (cumulatively) large quantities. There are no standards yet for arsenic limits in foods, just for limits in water (there have been many cases in the past of cancers related to arsenic toxicity from drinking well water). The FDA says they will make recommendations after further study.

Brown rice tended to have larger quantities of arsenic than white rice.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-nw-rice-arsenic-20120919,0,485089.story

Possible concern about inorganic arsenic levels in rice was discussed in an earlier thread, which mentioned this British report from 2007
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agri...

Of course, the rice industry says this is all being blown way out of proportion and that it's nonsensical to single out rice as a problem food, since inorganic arsenic occurs in many foods and no one has shown that its presence in foods has caused health problems.

  1. r
    racer x Sep 19, 2012 11:20 AM

    For most Americans, this probably is not a hugely important issue, since Americans generally tend not to consume all that much rice. But for someone like me who eats A LOT of rice, and especially for those who may have other risk factors for cancers, it might be an issue of concern.

    The Washington Post offers several suggestions, from Consumer Reports and the FDA, on steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure to arsenic.

    This one stood out in particular for me:

    "Rinse rice thoroughly before cooking. Instead of cooking rice in water that is entirely absorbed by the grains, use a ratio of six cups water to one cup rice and drain the excess water. Research shows these steps remove about 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic content."
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/busines...

    I know everyone always recommends rinsing rice thoroughly before cooking it (but I confess that when cooking for myself, I often skip this step!).

    3 Replies
    1. re: racer x
      c
      cheesemaestro Sep 20, 2012 02:56 PM

      "I know everyone always recommends rinsing rice thoroughly before cooking it. . ."

      Rice for risotto is the notable exception. Italian cooks don't rinse it, and I don't either. Have you found any data on arsenic levels for the varieties of rice grown in northern Italy (arborio, carnaroli, vialone nano, etc.) and used in risotto and similar dishes?

      1. re: cheesemaestro
        l
        lcool Sep 21, 2012 02:13 PM

        I don't know about the rice.The soil in much of Italy north of the PO is high in arsenic,so is much of Virginia and Maryland.Over the decades since WW II there has been controversy about the levels of arsenic and lead in water throughout the north.

        1. re: cheesemaestro
          NuMystic Nov 11, 2012 06:55 PM

          It's still an issue, but a much smaller concern as the arsenic is mostly found in the parts of the rice that are removed in virtually all white rice varieties, which is why the levels tested so much higher in brown rice than white.

      2. paulj Sep 19, 2012 11:51 PM

        http://now.dartmouth.edu/2012/02/organic-food-sweetener-may-be-a-hidden-source-of-dietary-arsenic/
        from Feb 2012 talks about brown rice syrup as a possible source of inorganic arsenic. This is the organic 'natural' alternative to HFCS used in energy bars and even baby formulas.

        webmed faq on the topic
        http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/ar...

        It is also clear, from this and other sources, that inorganic arsenic in well water remains the area of biggest concern (world wide). That's where EPA guidelines come into play.

        1. chartreauxx Sep 20, 2012 12:54 AM

          when i looked into this study in more detail, it seemed that the numbers are a little misleading. the arsenic levels were considered a possible risk factor for children, but the most stringent warnings seemed to center on brown-rice-based infant/baby formula/food. the study covered not just rice, but also rice derivatives and rice-based products (such as supplement bars, rice pastas, etc). rice that was not adequately rinsed was higher risk (rinsing makes for better rice anyway imo...), and arsenic levels varied significantly by where the rice was grown (texas, missouri, california...), what kind of rice (brown, white, long grain, short grain, medium grain...), and more. the study did not address rice grown in other countries (thailand, mexico...). overall, interesting in a way and i'll keep watching the issue... i'll also keep eating my rice 2-3x a day. fwiw, i eat white rice grown either in california (my short-grain rice) or thailand (my jasmine rice). no data on the thai rice, no specifics or warnings about the california-grown rice.

          1. j
            John Francis Sep 20, 2012 06:27 AM

            Time enough to raise the alarm if the FDA actually finds harmful levels of arsenic in rice that's on the market. Seems to me that Consumer Reports is crying wolf, warning of a danger that isn't known to exist. And there's always the danger that like the boy in the story, people will pay less heed to the FDA if eventually it does find a real danger, if there have already been false alarms about it.

            Nothing we eat or drink is wholly without risk, if not in itself then if it's contaminated. But we can't not eat everything! More generally, living is a hazard to your health. :-)

            1 Reply
            1. re: John Francis
              MGZ Sep 20, 2012 09:42 AM

              The growth of corporate power over regulatory and legislative functions "is a hazard to your health." Consumer Reports raising an alarm to call the populace's attention to the issue and, perhaps (albeit unlikely), lead to some attention to the problem when enough Americans actually think about what's happened is a welcome contribution to returning to a government where the safety of the air, water, food, etc. is of paramount importance - not shareholder value. Waiting for the FDA to do something - Really? At least 90 percent of the country is in favor of labeling foods containing GMOs, yet the FDA refuses to seriously consider the issue.

              Face it, there has been a coordinated, well-funded effort to use lobbying and political spending to cap the progress on these issues ever since Powell's famous memo.* Eroding the protective powers of the agencies created to ensure the basic quality of life in the US seems like a goal that would not be near the top of priorities for the average citizen. But then again, some people think that the coal companies have the right idea about global warming.

              At bottom, if someone told her guests "eating this chicken that I left on the counter all afternoon before I cooked it to 140 degrees is fine," most folks would probably decline, even though there is actually a decent chance that they would survive the meal. If there is a notable chance that something is more likely than not to be the cause of a problem shouldn't we attempt to avoid the production of that chance until certain? Why should consumers bear the risk? Why not put it upon the industries that are the best suited to deal with it in a widespread fashion?

              *So it's clear, I've spent my time in corporate board rooms advising clients.

            2. mcf Sep 20, 2012 06:48 AM

              There are some studies that suggest one might not want to wait for all the food study results to limit exposure, though: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/web/FILES/Publications/arsenic_in_rice_sarid_impact_report.pdf

              http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)60481-3/abstract

              http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012...

              1. g
                GH1618 Sep 20, 2012 09:52 AM

                Excellent! A good reason to eschew brown rice!

                1 Reply
                1. re: GH1618
                  c
                  cheesemaestro Sep 20, 2012 02:42 PM

                  To chew or to eschew--that is the question.

                2. ennuisans Sep 20, 2012 11:59 AM

                  Somehow the link to the actual Consumer Reports findings has not been posted here, unless I'm missing it:

                  http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/ma...

                  1. r
                    racer x Sep 20, 2012 01:32 PM

                    I think the issue is that this is an area of research that has been neglected by the food industry and the US government food safety agencies. Consumer Reports and others should be applauded for trying to raise public awareness about what may be a problem.

                    As for levels of arsenic in rice from differing regions, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much info on that available to the general public.

                    Here is a study from China that reported "in assessing the risk from As in rice, we found that As intake for the Chinese population through rice is higher than from drinking water, with a 37.6% contribution to the maximum tolerable daily intake (MTDI) of As recommended by World Health Organization (WHO), compared with 1.5% from drinking water. Compared to other countries, the risk for the Chinese from exposure to As through rice is more severe due to the large rice consumption in China."
                    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20485999

                    Another study from China: "The vast majority (85%) of the market rice grains possessed total As levels < 150 ng g(-1). The rice collected from mine-impacted regions, however, were found to be highly enriched in As, reaching concentrations of up to 624 ng g(-1)."
                    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18678041

                    This from Thailand: "Concentrations of total and inorganic arsenic were determined in 180 samples of polished and brown rice of three rice types, namely white, jasmine, and sticky, and 44 samples of rice bran from these three rice types purchased in Thailand.... The levels of inorganic arsenic in the three rice types of both polished and brown rice were within the only published regulatory limit of 200 ng/g."
                    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22...

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: racer x
                      paulj Sep 20, 2012 02:29 PM

                      Another side to this is the medical one. Apart from instances of high arsenic intake via water, or occupational hazards, little is known about it's effects via food intake. There are few, if any cases, where an ill can be pinned on an excess food intake.

                      One problem with approaching this topic rationally is that few of us has any first, or even 2nd, hand knowledge with low levels of arsenic. The first thing that comes to mind is likely to be intentional poisoning from detective stories. So we are inclined to view any level of intake as poisonous, even though we are always consuming small amounts.

                      1. re: paulj
                        MGZ Sep 21, 2012 04:20 AM

                        If consumption of small amounts does not seem to have adverse health consequences and consumption of large amounts can be fatal, doesn't it seem prudent, even without further study, to avoid increasing the levels that we ingest? What sense is there in waiting for proof of the precise level at which harm remains unlikely when we can simply act in any way that limits exposure?

                        1. re: MGZ
                          l
                          lcool Sep 21, 2012 02:23 PM

                          exception maybe,at low levels the adult,healthy human can flush it
                          how much ? how often? don't know
                          Don't know if there is a genetic component similar to storing mercury.There is a test for mercury storage and which genetic group you fall in.Me,over 60 liking best BIG fish,higher in mercury,am I a mega repository or minor repository?Now at 60+ the reproductive risk is zero.What the effect on the aging brain?

                          1. re: lcool
                            MGZ Sep 22, 2012 06:14 AM

                            Maybe it's just me, but if somebody says it's possible that using too much fossil fuel may be bad for the planet, I don't have a problem opening window instead of using the AC or cutting back on how often I use the car. I mean seriously, once upon a time it was "Hey lady, maybe it might hurt your kid if you smoke and drink while pregnant. We're not sure, but it seems like it might."

                            1. re: MGZ
                              TeRReT Sep 22, 2012 06:23 AM

                              There was also the time they said coconut oil was not healthy for you and that aluminum increased your chance of having Alzheimer's. I am not prepared to jump on every bandwagon when half of them end up getting debunked.

                              1. re: TeRReT
                                MGZ Sep 22, 2012 06:36 AM

                                Was your health irreparably damaged by not eating coconut oil? It's not a bandwagon, it's being prudent.

                                I'm not quite sure I see your point about things "getting debunked". I mean, arsenic is known to be dangerous above a certain level of consumption. Testing has shown a higher than previously know level of arsenic in rice. Both actual facts. Neither is in dispute. The only question that remains is whether or not there is too high an amount in rice to be safe for some or all consumers. What's to debunk?

                                Similarly, it is undisputed that the temperature of the planet is rising. The only remaining question, for a dwindling number, is whether human activity is contributing to it. Is it fair or prudent to wait and see if can be "debunked", or do you act in a responsible way, just in case?

                                1. re: MGZ
                                  TeRReT Sep 22, 2012 07:52 AM

                                  I understand arsenic is bad, I just am not concerned with the levels I am ingesting, I am living in a culture where rice has been consumed every day for thousands of years and I don't see anything changing anytime soon.

                                  1. re: TeRReT
                                    NuMystic Nov 11, 2012 07:05 PM

                                    TeRReT, the history of rice consumption is completely irrelevant when the inorganic arsenic that is reaching dangerous levels in the rice we are consuming is an entirely recent occurrence as a result of very very recent agricultural practices.

                                    Taken directly from the report:
                                    "Though arsenic can enter soil or water due to weathering of arsenic-containing minerals in the earth, humans are more to blame than Mother Nature for arsenic contamination in the U.S. today, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The U.S. is the world’s leading user of arsenic, and since 1910 about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural and industrial purposes, about half of it only since the mid-1960s. Residues from the decades of use of lead-arsenate insecticides linger in agricultural soil today, even though their use was banned in the 1980s. Other arsenical ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted. Moreover, fertilizer made from poultry waste can contaminate crops with inorganic arsenic."

                                    And this is not a "bandwagon" there is verifiably higher levels of arsenic showing up in the HUMAN subjects being tested. In particular Hispanic, Asian, and any other subjects that consumed a higher than average amount of rice each day had dramatically higher arsenic in their test results than those who did not.

                                2. re: TeRReT
                                  mcf Sep 22, 2012 07:42 AM

                                  But we each can do our own due diligence. I used coconut oil and plenty of other fast anyway once I started doing my own research and not just accepting pronouncements. Since there is no safe lower limit for arsenic exposure determined and lots of rice has high to moderately high levels, some caution is in order, in this case, from what I've read.

                                3. re: MGZ
                                  l
                                  lcool Sep 22, 2012 07:32 AM

                                  "exception maybe" clearly doesn't have the same meaning for both of us

                                  Arsenic is a known toxic agent,no problem.My position does not include distilling all the information available at the present time as "HOLY GRAIL".As more is known and published I have the ability to revise,modify my opinion.As do all of us.If you are worried,more so than me on a personal level that's OK.If you are really concerned,arsenic levels can be tested in blood,bones,hair and nails.
                                  The results,statistics from that area seem missing at the present time.

                                  1. re: lcool
                                    MGZ Sep 22, 2012 08:07 AM

                                    Good point. "Keep smoking and drinking, I bet them hippie science folks are wrong." I mean, DDT and Agent Orange have been proven to be safe, right?

                                    1. re: MGZ
                                      l
                                      lcool Sep 22, 2012 09:50 AM

                                      I don't find anything in my post that implies safe in regards to arsenic.

                                      As to "keep smoking and drinking" ,smoking what? medical marijuana for glaucoma or ESR ? drinking what? red wine,green tea,coffee
                                      Your reference to DDT is insulting and misplaced.I would recommend some reading,old and new,on both sides of the ban.Then absorb the number of deaths malaria is responsible for.

                                      1. re: lcool
                                        MGZ Sep 23, 2012 03:24 AM

                                        "Smoking and drinking" was a reference back to a point a bit up the subthread. I assumed you had read it.

                                        I don't see what's so insulting about referencing DDT. I mean it's sort of 'the' government approved substance that triggered environmental awareness and a willingness in the population to demand protection from potential hazards. I suppose I will concede that the reference may have been a bit cliche. (Given the context of the reference, I don't think we need to be too concerned with the rate of Malaria deaths in the US.)

                                        1. re: MGZ
                                          l
                                          lcool Sep 23, 2012 07:11 AM

                                          I had read it,responded to the directed at me.

                        2. r
                          racer x Sep 20, 2012 01:36 PM

                          And there's this from that British article from 2007
                          "Prof Meharg said that rice from some countries had arsenic levels five times higher than others, so concerned consumers could easily reduce their intake.

                          Rice from the United States, France, Italy and Bangladesh had the highest levels of inorganic arsenic. About 30 per cent of American long grain rice samples tested contain levels above the Chinese standard.

                          The highest levels of arsenic in the world had just been found in French rice, he said. Rice from India and Egypt had the lowest levels, with basmati rice some of the safest."
                          http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agri...

                          Seems like rice from most parts of India or Thailand may tend to have lower arsenic levels than rice from other areas -- just be sure that basmatic you're getting isn't actually from Bangladesh or West Bengal.

                          1. hill food Sep 20, 2012 08:58 PM

                            I may be wrong, but it seems like the US rice arsenic level was caused by
                            1. eradicating previous cotton crops with the poison
                            and
                            2. the use of fertilizer rife with arsenic

                            at that point it's in the fiber. and how washing the individual grains changes anything beats the heck outta me.

                            if one is truly on watch, the more poor the country, the less chance to grow anything other than organic. so buy imported until the FDA gets their game together (don't hold your breath).

                            BTW in small amounts arsenic has a slight buzzy after-effect - but absolutely not in kid foods (we do have to draw lines)

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: hill food
                              paulj Sep 20, 2012 09:07 PM

                              and if I recall one of sources correctly (a wired.com article) , it was an organic form of arsenic that was applied to the cotton crop. It's the inorganic form that scientists are concerned about.

                              The UK has had arsenic in food standards for many years. Here's a study of arsenic levels in rice drinks (e.g. Rice Dream)
                              http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdf...

                              I've also seen mention of strict Chinese standards for arsenic in rice.

                              1. re: hill food
                                g
                                GH1618 Sep 20, 2012 09:13 PM

                                Actually, calcium arsenate was used to control the cotton boll weevil when cotton was being farmed. That could be the source. Calcium arsenate is an inorganic compound.

                                1. re: GH1618
                                  hill food Sep 20, 2012 09:21 PM

                                  oh right! it wasn't crop change, it was used for the weevil. I stand corrected.

                                  1. re: GH1618
                                    paulj Sep 20, 2012 09:49 PM

                                    Here's the Wired blog
                                    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/09/arsenic-and-rice-yes-again/

                                    As you say the cotton application was inorganic. It was a chicken feed additive that is organic.

                                    FDA's list of rice and rice products
                                    http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Fo...

                                    Another twist to the story - an Arizona scientist has developed a strain of rice that can grow in a dry climate. If arsenic in rice is largely due to the anerobic conditions when rice is grown in water, this new form might be much lower in arsenic.

                                    1. re: paulj
                                      r
                                      racer x Sep 21, 2012 01:41 PM

                                      But how good does it taste??

                                      1. re: racer x
                                        paulj Sep 21, 2012 02:11 PM

                                        http://www.ktsm.com/news/researcher-w...

                                  2. re: hill food
                                    l
                                    lcool Sep 21, 2012 02:30 PM

                                    arsenates are the end all to be all for a cotton crop,even at the end to defoliate the plant prior to reaping the bowl "COTTON AIDE" (CACADYLIC ACID ?spelling? it's been a long time)also used to assassinate trees to halt the spread of DUTCH ELM DISEASE and OAK WILT

                                    1. re: lcool
                                      hill food Sep 21, 2012 07:10 PM

                                      like it or not I learn something every day. it's used to facilitate the picking? wow. wonder what that does to the workers. IIRC it is a metal.

                                      so for diseases like dutch elm, the only solution is scorched earth and burned bridges? I have doubts even that truly stops or even slows it. sadly.

                                      1. re: hill food
                                        l
                                        lcool Sep 22, 2012 04:51 AM

                                        DED and oak wilt - "cacyng" (industry term) is fast ,slash and paint this AM and wilted and brown by the end of rush hour,as are root grafted specimens if they weren't safety trenched first.The tree's vascular system is essentially petrified.Stopping the disease in its tracks.Better sanitation if circumstances permit.Sanitation is 90% or more of the battle for control.
                                        Cotton,just spayed over the top so when the machine comes though the resulting load is only bowls reducing the (?) work,mess and cost.Workers ? ,don't know ,but what amount gets around,how far in the blowing dust etc the machines kick up?A crop I have rational problems with.

                                  3. h
                                    HillJ Sep 22, 2012 07:05 AM

                                    The very 1st article I read about this came (no surprise!) from mothers of newborns asking hard questions about rice products aimed at children under the age of one.

                                    1. r
                                      racer x Sep 22, 2012 05:42 PM

                                      Here's another article discussing variations in arsenic content of rice according to the regions where the rice was grown, also mentioning the role of arsenic-based pesticides for cotton crops in affecting the arsenic content of today's rice fields.

                                      "Arkansas produces about half and California about 20% of the total rice grown in the United States. The rest comes from Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, and Florida....

                                      Total arsenic levels in the 107 south central rice samples averaged 0.30 μg/g, compared to an average of 0.17 μg/g in the 27 California samples. A white rice sample from Louisiana ranked highest in total arsenic (0.66 μg/g), and an organic brown rice from California ranked lowest (0.10 μg/g). Organic growing conditions, however, do not guarantee low arsenic levels....

                                      both Duxbury and Meharg found basmati rice imported from India and Pakistan and jasmine rice from Thailand to contain the least arsenic."
                                      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/artic...

                                      I pretty much only cook Thailand jasmine rice or Indian/Pakistani basmati. So from this standpoint, if the package labels are accurate, I may be ok.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: racer x
                                        paulj Sep 22, 2012 08:26 PM

                                        How do you know that 0.10 μg/g is ok, but 0.30 μg/g isn't?

                                        There's a danger that people will arbitrarily set the OK level such that 2/3 of the world's rice is deemed ok, and remaining 1/3 bad, just because there is pressure to 'do something', not because there is a good reason to choose that level.

                                        If the FDA does set a level that disproportionately affects certain states, you can be sure that congressmen from the affected states will scream bloody murder.

                                        1. re: paulj
                                          r
                                          racer x Sep 22, 2012 08:49 PM

                                          How do you know that 0.10 μg/g is ok, but 0.30 μg/g isn't?

                                          You don't. But hopefully there will be info from public health authorities and scientists that can help balance policies put forth by institutions/agencies that are less insulated from political pressures.

                                          10 μg/L is the limit for arsenic in water.
                                          Assuming the average person drinks 1 - 2 liters per day of water with an arsenic concentration at the limit, that gives us an intake of about 20 μg of arsenic per day at the limit. So we would want the daily arsenic intake to be less than 20 μg.

                                          Now, let's make the (huge) assumption that, in terms of health risks, arsenic concentration in water is the same as arsenic content of rice.

                                          If you consume a lot of rice, 115 g per day, that would put your daily intake of arsenic from rice at

                                          12 μg per day with the 0.10 μg/g rice from lower-concentration rice regions
                                          vs.
                                          35 μg per day from the US higher-concentration rice regions
                                          vs.
                                          76 μg per day from the (US highest sampled concentration) Louisiana rice.

                                          1. re: paulj
                                            paulj Sep 22, 2012 11:31 PM

                                            Via Eater, I see that other legislators have introduced a bill that would force the FDA to set some sort of limits
                                            http://www.latimes.com/business/money...
                                            R.I.C.E. Act, known officially as the Reducing Food-based Inorganic and Organic Compounds Exposure Act

                                          2. re: racer x
                                            The Dairy Queen Sep 29, 2012 04:40 AM

                                            Thanks for the link. I wish they'd discussed where Minnesota ranks. I eat a lot of locally grown MN wild rice which, though not technically a rice, was still tested for arsenic along with the other actual rices.

                                            ~TDQ

                                          3. l
                                            lcool Sep 23, 2012 07:56 AM

                                            Arsenic and humans,how many of us are qualifying for a problem?

                                            OK most of the science needed here isn't tough.We have methods,old and new,none complicated or prohibitive economically.
                                            Using tests to measure levels in blood,hair,nails,fat cells and bone and breast milk seems a no brainer.As does some of the obvious demographics.OB/GYN, pregnant women and new borns,PEDIATRIC patient pool and the SENIORS,GERIATRIC patient pool that are seen in huge numbers regularly.It's doubtful they would object in significant numbers to one more thing looked at.
                                            Hell,check the blood supply.Privacy laws probably limiting to raw data,non specific demographics but for a POISON should not require endless committees to begin.
                                            Limiting concerns and investigations to the consumption of rice seems so very (?).

                                            1. MGZ Sep 29, 2012 04:41 AM

                                              More reading on the subject:

                                              http://www.theatlantic.com/health/arc...

                                              1. paulj Apr 10, 2013 05:37 PM

                                                Now you get to worry about that clear beer and wine
                                                http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013...

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: paulj
                                                  h
                                                  Hobbert Apr 10, 2013 05:44 PM

                                                  At this point, I just assume everything's going to kill me and just go about my merry way...

                                                  1. re: paulj
                                                    NuMystic Apr 10, 2013 11:27 PM

                                                    Just more evidence that Porters and Stouts are obviously superior to your pallid filtered see through beers. ;-P

                                                    1. re: paulj
                                                      r
                                                      racer x Apr 12, 2013 08:41 AM

                                                      Don't drink it, so no worries here.

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