Lead Contamination of Applesauce Pouches May Have Been Intentional: FDA

Ingredients contaminated with high levels of lead may have been introduced to make the products more appealing, and to allow the manufacturer to sell the products for a lower price, FDA investigators speculate.

Following massive recalls issued for WanaBana and other fruit pouches in recent weeks, federal health officials indicate they are investigating whether toxic lead may have been intentionally added to the applesauce products, which have now been linked to at least 65 lead poisoning illnesses among children under the age of six in at least 27 different states.

In a statement made to POLITICO last week, Jim Jones, Deputy Commissioner for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), indicated that the agency had developed several potential theories for how lead contaminated applesauce pouches distributed throughout the United States; one of them being that the toxic metal may have been added on purpose.

Officials believe the lead-tainted cinnamon may have been used to make the applesauce more appealing or appear to be higher in quality than it really was, which may have had devastating consequences for young children consuming the recalled fruit puree pouches.

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Some manufacturers have been known to do this in order to sell a cheaper, lower quality item for a higher price. This includes spices, which some companies illegally add lead-based dyes to, in order to give them a brighter color and appearance.

Apple Sauce Lead Poisoning Investigation

FDA officials initiated an investigation into the contaminated applesauce pouches following an investigation led by North Carolina health officials, which identified the fruit pouches as the potential lead exposure source of four children who suffered elevated blood levels and lead poisoning. After confirming the products contained dangerously high levels of lead that could cause lead poisoning if consumed, the agency released a consumer advisory on October 28.

Further sample testing identified elevated lead concentrations in several batches of the apple cinnamon-flavored variety, prompting one manufacturer to issue a WanaBana applesauce pouch recall impacting certain batches of the cinnamon fruit puree distributed online and in stores nationwide.

Days later, 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.

The FDA suspected the cinnamon used in the products could be the lead contamination source, as sample testing only identified elevated levels in those that contained cinnamon. The ingredient was supplied by a third-party distribution company, Negasmart, located in Ecuador. It was then sold to Austrofood in Ecuador and used to manufacture the fruit puree products.

Additionally, officials indicate that Ecuadorian authorities have also detected higher lead levels in Negasmart’s cinnamon than the country allows, and the supplier is currently under an administrative sanction process to determine who is responsible for the contamination.

The FDA is currently working with Ecuadorian authorities to gather additional information about the cinnamon supplier, Negasmart, and is still in the process of conducting an onsite inspection of the Austrofood facility in Ecuador. Investigators are in the process of collecting samples of cinnamon used in the recalled products for further testing and will update the public once more information becomes available, according to the latest update.

Lead Poisoning Risks

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent brain damage, nervous system injuries, cognitive impairment, physical disabilities, or other long-term health consequences. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, as they are still developing and do not usually show exposure signs or symptoms.

While short-term exposure can cause headaches, abdominal pain, headaches, vomiting, or other minor symptoms, longer exposure may result in more severe symptoms, including lethargy, muscular weakness, confusion, or tremors.

According to pediatricians, there is no safe lead exposure level for children, and any exposure may increase the risk of developing serious or permanent injuries, or even death.

New research indicates that lead exposure during pregnancy may even impact an unborn baby’s development and cognitive skills after they are born, finding higher instances of mental impairment or delayed development after prenatal lead exposure.

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