Food & Drink

Patient count continues to grow in outbreak of lead poisoning traced to applesauce

More children have been identified as patients in an outbreak of lead poisonings traced to certain cinnamon applesauce products.

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 implicated cinnamon applesauce products — Wanabana, Schnucks and Weis — were recalled in the fall of 2023.

“Cases are reported to the CDC through state health departments. State health departments receive reports of potential cases from various sources, and then follow up to determine whether the case definition is met. In order to be considered in CDC’s case count, the person must have had a blood lead level of 3.5 ug/dL or higher measured within 3 months after consuming a recalled WanaBana, Schnucks, or Weis brand fruit purée product after November 2022,” according to the CDC’s outbreak update.

The Food and Drug Administration is also investigating the outbreak. As of Feb. 27 the FDA was reporting that its patient count was holding steady at 90. The FDA and CDC use different ways of tracking patients, so there may be some overlap with the counts. The FDA reports that the vast majority of the patients are 1 year old or younger.

The investigation
The FDA and officials in Ecuador — where the applesauce was produced — continue to investigate the situation. Some of the tests of cinnamon used to make the implicated applesauce showed 2,000 times the amount of lead considered safe.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revealed the name of the company that supplied tainted cinnamon used to make applesauce marketed for young children in the United States. On Feb. 6, officials in Ecuador reported to the FDA that Carlos Aguilera of Ecuador was the processor of ground cinnamon used in making applesauce sold in pouches in the United States.

The cinnamon supplier sold the tainted spice to Negasmart, which sold the cinnamon to Austrofoods, the end producer of the applesauce. The FDA’s investigation is ongoing to determine the point of contamination and whether additional products are linked to illnesses.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the cinnamon supplier is currently not in business. The FDA’s deputy commissioner for human foods, Jim Jones, has said he believes the cinnamon was intentionally contaminated. Adding lead to spices and other products can increase the product’s weight and, therefore, its value.

“The FDA has limited authority over foreign ingredient suppliers who do not directly ship product to the U.S. This is because their food undergoes further manufacturing/processing before export. Thus, the FDA cannot take direct action with Negasmart or Carlos Aguilera,” according to a statement from the agency.

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

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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