Toxic Lead in Recalled Fruit Puree Pouches Linked to Dozens of Illnesses, Reports of Elevated Blood Lead Levels

The ongoing investigation suggests that the lead contamination may have come from cinnamon made in Ecuador, which was used in each of the recalled fruit puree pouches.

Federal health officials indicate that there are a growing number of lead poisoning illnesses that have been identified nationwide, which appear to be linked to toxic lead in recalled fruit puree pouches sold throughout the U.S. in recent months.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its WanaBana, Weis, and Schnucks fruit pouch investigation on November 15, indicating the agency has now become aware of at least 34 lead-related illnesses from individuals in at least 23 states, after they consumed the contaminated fruit puree products.

Investigating officials conducted additional sample testing of recalled WanaBana apple cinnamon puree products, finding they contain dangerously high lead levels of 2.18 parts per million (ppm). The detected lead concentrations are more than 200 times higher than the safe levels established by the FDA, according to the investigation.

WanaBana, Weis, and Schnucks Fruit Pouch Recalls

The FDA initially issued an advisory on October 28, which warned consumers to avoid children’s WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches, after confirming that the products contained lead levels high enough to cause lead poisoning if consumed.

That warning followed 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.

Due to the lead exposure and poisoning risks, officials issued a WanaBana fruit pouch recall on October 31, impacting dozens of  batches that were distributed online and in stores nationwide. At the time of the initial recall, the FDA had become aware of at least seven adverse events reported in relation to the lead contamination from consumers in at least five states.

While investigating the lead contamination source, investigators also identified elevated lead concentrations in several batches of certain Weis cinnamon applesauce pouches and Schnucks cinnamon-flavored applesauce pouches, which were distributed by WanaBana, prompting the agency to issue an expanded recall last week.

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Fruit Pouch Lead Contamination Investigation

In the latest update of the lead contamination investigation, federal and state health officials indicate the tainted apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches were originally manufactured in Ecuador, and then sold under WanaBana, Weis, and Schnucks brands.

Sample testing has confirmed elevated lead levels only in the products that contain cinnamon. Officials suspect the cinnamon may be the lead contamination source, and are working with Ecuadorian authorities to determine its source and obtain samples for lead testing.

While the FDA does not believe the contamination has affected any other products besides those subject to the recall, it is screening incoming shipments of cinnamon for lead. Officials will update the public when more information becomes available.

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 with exposure. Children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure, as they are still developing and often do not show immediate exposure signs or symptoms.

Symptoms of short-term lead exposure include headaches, abdominal pain, vomiting, or anemia, while longer exposure can result in more severe symptoms, including irritability, lethargy, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, tremors, or muscular exhaustion.

Research has shown children can suffer from reduced cognitive functioning, IQ scores, and may experience less structural brain integrity later in life, following childhood lead exposure.

Another study linked childhood lead poisoning to lower standardized testing scores among children who were exposed to lead.

Even exposure to low amounts of lead can result in adverse health outcomes, including permanent brain damage among children. Pediatricians say there is no safe lead exposure level for children, and any exposure can increase the risk of developing severe or permanent injuries, or even death.

Other research has linked lead exposure during childhood as a contributing factor for nearly 30% of ADHD among children, and found children with ADHD had higher blood lead levels than those without the behavioral disorder.

Researchers also indicate that exposure to lead, even at low levels, is an unacknowledged contributor of nearly 412,000 deaths in the United States each year.

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