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Cinnamon in contaminated applesauce pouches had ‘extremely high levels of lead,’ FDA says

One cinnamon sample tested by the FDA contained more than 2,000 times the proposed international limit.
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One sample of cinnamon used as an ingredient in the recalled WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree contained lead levels that were more than 2,000 times higher than proposed safety limits, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

The FDA tested samples of the spice as it investigates cases of lead poisoning in children in the U.S. that are linked to contaminated cinnamon applesauce pouches. As of Tuesday, at least 69 cases had been reported to the agency.

At the end of October, WanaBana USA announced a recall of its apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches because of elevated lead levels. In November, the recall was expanded to include two other products made by the company: the supermarket brands Schnucks applesauce pouches with cinnamon and Weis cinnamon applesauce. 

Weis, WanaBana and Schnucks apple sauce pouches.
Weis, WanaBana and Schnucks cinnamon apple sauce pouches.FDA

The FDA has said that the cinnamon in the products is most likely the cause of the lead contamination. 

The applesauce pouches are made at a facility in Ecuador called Austrofoods. FDA investigators sampled cinnamon at that facility. The cinnamon comes from another supplier in Ecuador, Negasmart. 

The FDA said its testing showed that the cinnamon samples contained “extremely high levels of lead.” One sample contained lead levels of 5,110 parts per million, about 2,000 times higher than proposed international safety standards from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization of 2.5 parts per million for spices that include cinnamon. 

Another sample contained lead levels of 2,270 parts per million. 

Laurie Beyranevand, director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School, called the findings frightening. 

“These levels are so far beyond the realm of what might be expected or considered safe,” she said. 

The U.S. doesn’t broadly limit lead levels in foods. In January, the FDA proposed limits on lead in processed baby food, although those guidelines aren’t expected to be finalized until 2025. 

The FDA said on Monday that it doesn’t believe that products made by WanaBana that do not contain cinnamon are at risk for lead contamination.

Last week, Ecuador’s Ministry of Public Health announced that two additional WanaBana products had tested positive for elevated lead levels — a mango passionfruit banana smoothie and an organic mango puree — but the FDA said it has tested at least 136 samples of other non cinnamon flavored WanaBana products, including the two mango products, and “all have been negative for elevated lead levels,” according to the agency.  The mango passionfruit banana smoothie can still be found on Dollar Tree’s website, though it is listed as currently “unavailable.” 

The agency also said it had confirmed that the supplier Negasmart does not ship its cinnamon directly to the U.S., nor do Negasmart’s other customers. 

On Friday, the FDA said in a statement that the lead contamination in the cinnamon pouches may be the result of economically motivated adulteration, also known as “food fraud.” NBC News was unable to reach Negasmart.

According to the FDA, food fraud can happen when a cheaper ingredient is added to a product to enhance it or bulk it up, but is not disclosed. One example highlighted by the agency is when lead-based dyes are added to spices to give the product a certain color.

WanaBana said it is working with the FDA on the investigation of its product. 

On Monday, the company said that it would reimburse parents with children affected by the recall “up to a total amount of $150” for health care visits and blood testing related to lead poisoning.