WanaBana Lead Poisoning Lawsuit Filed By Families of Children Who Consumed Tainted Applesauce Pouches

The CDC is aware of more than 350 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of lead poisoning linked to the recalled Wanabana apple cinnamon fruit pouches.

Wanabana, the makers of cinnamon applesauce products recalled late last year due to high levels of lead contamination, faces a lawsuit brought by two families who unknowingly put their children’s health at risk by feeding them the contaminated fruit pouches.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Madison Johnson and Elvin Dowling on January 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, seeking class action status to pursue damages from Wanabana LLC and Wanabana USA LLC as defendants, for all consumers who purchased tainted applesause pouches.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first issued a WanaBana lead poisoning warning on October 28, following an investigation by North Carolina health officials into several cases of children sickened after consuming apple cinnamon flavored fruit puree pouches.

The investigation led to a WanaBana applesauce pouch recall the next day, after at least four cases of lead poisoning among children were identified.

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. To date, 1.74 million pouches have been recalled.

According to an update issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the recalled apple cinnamon pouches have now been linked to 93 confirmed lead poisoning cases, with another 233 probable cases and 28 suspected cases, which have been identified in 41 states.

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Lead Poisoning Lawsuits

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In this new WanaBana lead poisoning lawsuit, Johnson and Dowling indicate that their children were exposed to serious health risks due to toxic levels of lead and chomium in the products.

Johnson indicates that she had her one year old daughter’s tested for lead poisoning after learning about the recall in mid-November 2023, with results showing very high concentrations of lead in her blood, which were nearly three times higher than the level at which the CDC recommends clinical monitoring for side effects of lead poisoning.

“Plaintiff Johnson’s daughter had normal lead levels in a physical examination in September, so the only possible source of the massive increase in blood lead levels is Defendants’ products which were purchased in mid-October,” according to the complaint. “The effects of lead poisoning can take years to manifest and Plaintiff Johnson suffers stress every day waiting to see what the ultimate impact may be on her baby.”

By contrast, Dowling does not indicate that her child developed lead poisoning from WanaBana applesauce pouches, but states that she never would have purchased the products or fed them to her children if she had known they were tainted with toxic lead. As a result, the plaintiffs seek financial compensation for economic damages they have suffered, and coverage for future medical monitoring for lead poisoning.

“In its marketing and labeling of the Cinnamon Apple products, WanaBana does not disclose that these food items contain any amount of lead or chromium—let alone the poisonous quantities they actually contained. Defendants also failed to disclose their products were unsafe and unfit for human consumption, and otherwise worthless,” the lawsuit states. “The advertising and packaging of these products is consequently materially false, deceptive, and misleading, and reasonably likely to deceive the public.”

The lawsuit is at least the second Wanbana lawsuit filed in recent weeks seeking class action status over the recalled pouches, with another having been filed last month in the Southern District of New York.

Apple Sauce Lead and Chromium Contamination Investigation

The lawsuit comes as the CDC and FDA are continuing their investigation into the source of the apple sauce lead contamination, having traced the lead poisoning back to cinnamon used in the products. FDA investigators speculate that the high levels of lead may have been intentionally added by a supplier to make the products more visually appealing.

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.

Earlier this month, the FDA reported that it has also found high levels of chromium in the recalled pouches, with levels as high as 1,201 parts per million. 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.

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.

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.

Image Credit: Close up portrait of sweet toddler kid eating fruit puree from plastic doy pack, sitting in stroller, outdoor snack time

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