FDA Finds Chromium in Cinnamon Apple Sauce Pouches Recalled for Lead Poisoning Risks

The amount of chromium found in recalled apple sauce pouches suggests the use of lead chromate in the manufacturing process, FDA investigators warn.

Federal regulators have identified another toxic heavy metal in recalled cinnamon apple sauce pouches, which have been linked to hundreds of lead poisoning illnesses throughout the United States.

In an apple sauce lead investigation update released on January 5, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that in addition to containing dangerously high amounts of toxic lead, recalled fruit puree pouches are also contaminated with high levels of chromium metal.

Officials indicate that sample testing of the recalled fruit puree pouches and the cinnamon used in the final products detected chromium levels as high as 1,201 parts per million (ppm). FDA investigators were unable to determine what form of chromium was found in the products due to testing method limitations, however, they indicate the levels of lead and chromium detected are consistent with those seen in lead chromate.

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Chromium Health Risks

Chromium is a naturally occurring element that exists in several forms, including chromium (III) and chromium (VI). Chromium (III) is an essential nutrient commonly found in dietary supplements; however, officials warn prolonged exposure to the more toxic form, chromium (IV), has been linked to cancer, chronic lung diseases, and skin ulcers.

Lead chromate is an inorganic compound with a vivid yellow color that contains toxic chromium (VI). Some manufacturers have been known to add it to spices to make them more appealing or appear to be higher in quality than they really are.

Officials indicate there is limited information on the health effects of eating food contaminated with chromium (VI), and exposure may present nonspecific symptoms. Individuals who ingest levels of chromium that exceeds dietary recommendations may experience minor symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, or more severe health consequences, such as kidney or liver dysfunction.

Applesauce Lead and Chromium Contamination Investigation

Consumers were initially warned that certain children’s fruit puree pouches contained toxic lead levels in an FDA warning released in late October, 2023. The warning followed an investigation led by North Carolina health officials, who identified the products as the lead exposure source of four children who suffered elevated blood lead levels and acute lead poisoning after consuming them.

After sample testing confirmed lead concentrations high enough to cause lead poisoning in several batches of the apple cinnamon variety, a WanaBana recall was issued on October 31. The applesauce recall was expanded on November 9 to include additional fruit puree pouches distributed under Weis and Schnucks brands, after investigators also identified elevated lead levels in those cinnamon-flavored products.

Sample testing only found toxic lead in products that contained cinnamon, leading investigators to suspect that the cinnamon used in the products may be the source of the lead contamination. The ingredient was supplied by Negasmart, a third-party distribution company located in Ecuador, and was then sold to Austrofoods in Ecuador, and used to manufacture the applesauce.

An onsite inspection of the Austrofoods facility and sample testing of cinnamon 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.

Investigators did not find lead contamination in the raw and unprocessed cinnamon from importers. However, they found extremely high lead levels in the ground and powdered cinnamon from Negasmart. In a statement made by the FDA Deputy Commissioner in December, the agency indicated it suspected the cinnamon was contaminated with lead on purpose. Officials believe the lead-tainted cinnamon was used to make the applesauce look more appealing or brighter in color, to appear higher in quality than it really was.

Following the recalls, the applesauce products remained on certain Dollar Tree and Family Dollar/Dollar Tree combination store shelves in multiple states, and the recalled products were still available for purchase as late as December 19, 2023.

A number of WanaBana class action lawsuits have been filed in relation to the lead contamination issue and subsequent recalls, and more than 287 lead-related illnesses have been identified by health officials across 37 different states, according to the latest updated from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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