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FDA confirms contamination of children’s applesauce; theorizes it was intentional

The FDA has confirmed that lead chromate is the source of lead and chromium in cinnamon applesauce marketed for children and imported from Ecuador.

Leaders at the FDA continue to believe the contamination was intentional.

The Food and Drug Administration had already confirmed that applesauce samples had as much as 2,000 times the amount of lead considered safe.

Three brands of cinnamon applesauce were recalled in November of 2023 because of lead contamination: Wanabana, Schnucks, and Weis.

“People who ate recalled products, especially if they had elevated blood lead levels, may have been exposed to chromium and should inform their healthcare provider so they can monitor health and provide supportive care, as needed,” according to the FDA’s Feb. 29 update.

“Historically, lead chromate has been illegally added to certain spices to increase their weight and color, increasing the monetary value of the adulterated spices. FDA’s leading hypothesis remains that this was likely an act of economically motivated adulteration.”

The FDA has limited regulatory power over foreign ingredient suppliers who do not directly ship their products to the United States. Consequently, the FDA cannot take direct action against Negasmart, the supplier of the cinnamon to the Ecuadorean applesauce manufacturer Austrofoods, or Carlos Aguilera, the processor of the cinnamon sticks. 

“Ecuadorian officials in Agencia Nacional de Regulación, Control y Vigilancia Sanitaria (ARCSA) have reported that Carlos Aguilera of Ecuador is the likely source of contamination and is not in operation at this time,” according to the U.S. FDA.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are now 468 patients spread across 44 states. That’s up from the 422 patients identified in the previous update on Feb. 13. The FDA has logged 90 children with adverse reactions. Some of the patients from the CDC and FDA tallies may overlap. 

“FDA does not indicate that this issue extends beyond these recalled products and does not have any confirmed reports of illnesses or elevated blood lead level adverse events reported for other cinnamon-containing products or cinnamon,” according to the agency.

According to health officials in Ecuador, unprocessed cinnamon sticks used in recalled products were sourced from Sri Lanka. They were sampled by Ecuadorean officials and found to have no lead contamination.

An investigation by The New York Times and the non-profit group “The Examination” found the applesauce and cinnamon slipped through every checkpoint meant to safeguard the U.S. food supply.

“The Ecuadorean food processor Austrofood was not required to test for toxic metals and did not, records show,” according to The Times .

“The agency (FDA) is conducting half as many spot checks of food at the border as they were a decade ago. Food importers, which are required to vet foreign food, let the applesauce enter the country.”

About lead poisoning Parents and caretakers should consult a healthcare provider and ask for blood tests if they suspect a child may have been exposed to the recalled cinnamon applesauce products. 

Short-term exposure to lead could result in the following symptoms: headache, abdominal pain/colic, vomiting, and anemia. 

Longer-term exposure could result in additional symptoms: irritability, lethargy, fatigue, muscle aches or muscle prickling/burning, constipation, difficulty concentrating/muscular weakness, tremors, and weight loss. 

Permanent consequences can lead to developmental delays and brain damage.

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