Heavy metal contamination of soils resulting from mining and smelting is causing major concern due to the potential risk involved. This study was designed to investigate the heavy metal (Cu, Zn, Pb and Cd) concentrations in soils and food crops and estimate the potential health risks of metals to humans via consumption of polluted food crops grown at four villages around the Dabaoshan mine, South China. The heavy metal concentrations in paddy and garden soils exceeded the maximum allowable concentrations for Chinese agricultural soil. The paddy soil at Fandong village was heavily contaminated with Cu (703 mg kg− 1), Zn (1100 mg kg− 1), Pb (386 mg kg− 1) and Cd (5.5 mg kg− 1). Rice tended to accumulated higher Cd and Pb concentration in grain parts. The concentrations of Cd, Pb and Zn in vegetables exceeded the maximum permissible concentration in China. Taro grown at the four sampled villages accumulated high concentrations of Zn, Pb and Cd. Bio-accumulation factors for heavy metals in different vegetables showed a trend in the order: Cd > Zn > Cu > Pb. Bio-accumulation factors of heavy metals were significantly higher for leafy than for non-leafy vegetable. The target hazard quotient (THQ) of rice at four sites varied from 0.66–0.89 for Cu, 0.48–0.60 for Zn, 1.43–1.99 for Pb, and 2.61–6.25 for Cd. Estimated daily intake (EDI) and THQs for Cd and Pb of rice and vegetables exceeded the FAO/WHO permissible limit. Heavy metal contamination of food crops grown around the mine posed a great health risk to the local population through consumption of rice and vegetables.