Toxic Applesauce Linked To Hundreds of Lead Poisoning Cases Remained on Store Shelves: FDA
Federal health officials have linked hundreds of lead poisoning illnesses throughout the United States to applesauce pouches that contain dangerously high amounts of toxic lead, some of which remained on store shelves for weeks after they were recalled.
In a lead poisoning outbreak update issued on December 22, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates it has become aware of at least 251 total lead-related illnesses spread across 34 different states that appear to be linked to recalled applesauce products, which include 73 confirmed cases, 157 probable cases, and 21 suspected cases.
The fruit puree products were recalled months ago, after they were found to contain exceptionally high lead concentrations that could cause lead poisoning if consumed. However, in an applesauce lead investigation update released on December 26, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates it has received several reports that toxic applesauce products were still available for purchase in Dollar Tree stores as late as December 19.
Applesauce Lead Contamination Investigation
The FDA first issued a consumer advisory on October 28, warning consumers that the children’s fruit puree pouches contained toxic concentrations of lead. The warning followed an investigation led by North Carolina Health officials, who identified the products as the potential lead exposure source of four children who suffered elevated blood lead levels and acute lead poisoning.
A WanaBana applesauce recall was announced on October 31, after sample testing confirmed lead concentrations high enough to cause lead poisoning in several batches of the apple cinnamon variety. On November 9, the applesauce recall was expanded to include additional products distributed under Weis and Schnucks brands, after investigators also identified elevated lead levels in those cinnamon-flavored fruit products.
Investigators suspected that cinnamon used in the products may be the source of the lead contamination, as sample testing only identified toxic lead in products that contained cinnamon. The ingredient was supplied by Negasmart, a third-party distribution company located in Ecuador, and was then sold to Austrofood in Ecuador, and used to manufacture the fruit puree products.
An onsite inspection of the Austrofoods facility and sample testing of cinnamon samples supplied by Negasmart revealed lead concentrations of 5,110 parts per million (ppm), which is more than 2,000 times higher than the safe lead level for bark spices, including cinnamon.
In December, Jim Jones, Deputy Commissioner for the FDA, indicated that the agency suspected the cinnamon may have been contaminated with lead on purpose.
Investigators did not find lead contamination in raw and unprocessed cinnamon from importers in Ecuador, however, they found elevated lead levels in ground and powdered cinnamon from Negasmart. Officials believe the lead-tainted cinnamon may have been used to make the applesauce look more appealing or brighter in color, to appear higher in quality than it really was.
At least one Wanabana apple cinnamon pouch class action lawsuit has been filed as a result of the lead contamination and subsequent recall.
According to an update issued by the FDA on December 26, 2023, recalled WanaBana applesauce products were still on store shelves at Dollar Tree stores in multiple states as of December 13, 2023. Nearly a week later, the FDA also received a report that the toxic applesauce was still on the shelf at at least one Family Dollar/Dollar Tree combination store.
Lead Poisoning Risks
Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent brain damage, cognitive impairment, nervous system injuries, physical disabilities, or other long-term health consequences. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, as the they are still developing and often do not show immediate exposure signs or symptoms.
Short-term lead exposure can cause minor symptoms, including headaches, abdominal pain, or vomiting. Longer exposure may result in more severe symptoms, including irritability, lethargy, muscular exhaustion, tremors, or difficulty concentrating.
The most serious effects of lead exposure can occur when the brain is still developing. Pediatricians indicate there is no safe lead exposure level among children, and any exposure may increase their risk of developing permanent injuries, or dying.
Prior research has revealed that childhood lead exposure can reduce the brain’s structural integrity later in life. Another study linked lead exposure among children to lower standardized testing scores.
New research indicates that even unborn babies are vulnerable to lead exposure during pregnancy. The study revealed higher instances of mental impairment and delayed development after prenatal lead exposure.
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