U.S.

Cinnamon in recalled applesauce pouches had extremely high lead levels

The FDA did not find elevated lead levels in any of the 136 samples of Austrofoods' other products tested that did not contain cinnamon.

Recalled applesauce pouches from WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks
FDA
SMS

The level of lead found in cinnamon that was used in recalled applesauce pouches was more than 2,000 times higher than the amount proposed as an international limit, the Food and Drug Administration found. 

The agency has been investigating the source of the lead contamination since its initial safety alert about the cinnamon applesauce pouches in October, which has now potentially poisoned 65 young children across the U.S. 

The FDA said it finished its onsite inspection of the Austrofoods facility in Ecuador where the applesauce pouches were produced and then sold in the U.S. under the brands WanaBana, Schnucks and Weis. During the inspection, cinnamon samples supplied to Austrofoods from Negocios Asociados Mayoristas S.A., operating as Negasmart, were tested. 

“These samples have undergone analysis and results show extremely high levels of lead contamination, 5110 parts per million (ppm) and 2270 ppm,” the FDA said. “For context, the international standard-setting body, Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is considering adopting a maximum level of 2.5 ppm for lead in bark spices, including cinnamon, in 2024.”

It did not find elevated lead levels in any of the 136 samples of Austrofoods' other products tested that did not contain cinnamon.

While the FDA’s investigation into the contaminated applesauce pouches is ongoing, its hands are somewhat tied since Negasmart does not supply its product directly to the U.S. 

Just last week, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods Jim Jones told Politico the agency believes the lead contamination may have been intentional for economic reasons, but that several theories are being looked into. 

Lead contamination in applesauce pouches may have been intentional
Lead contamination in applesauce pouches may have been intentional

Lead contamination in applesauce pouches may have been intentional

The FDA is investigating several theories for how they became contaminated, but currently believes it was economically motivated, Politico reported.

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The agency said it is relying on officials in Ecuador to support the investigation into the third-party supplier. According to the country’s government agency that regulates products for human use and consumption, Negasmart does not ship products outside of Ecuador. 

“While our information at this time indicates that in the U.S. the contaminated cinnamon is limited to only the applesauce products that have already been recalled, the FDA is still investigating whether the cinnamon in the recalled products was used in other products exported to the U.S.,” the FDA said. 

As an added precaution, the FDA has continued the heightened screening of imported cinnamon from certain countries. It is also taking steps to make other countries aware of the elevated lead levels in cinnamon applesauce pouches. 

The FDA said that even low levels of lead in the bloodstream can cause cognitive impairment in children that is irreversible. Most children won't have obvious immediate symptoms, but if parents suspect their children have been exposed to lead, the FDA said they should get tested. 

Short-term symptoms from lead toxicity include headache, abdominal pain/colic, vomiting and anemia. The FDA said lead toxicity can cause longer-term symptoms, including irritability, lethargy and fatigue.

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