The US Food and Drug Administration is investigating how parts-per-million levels of lead ended up in certain pouches of apple-cinnamon puree. The agency warned consumers not to eat the recalled products, sold under the WanaBana, Schnucks, and Weis brands, after at least seven reports of adverse health effects in children consistent with acute lead poisoning.
“The FDA has received additional reports of illnesses and is working to evaluate those complaints,” the agency says in a consumer advisory issued on Nov. 3. “The FDA’s investigation is ongoing to determine the source of lead contamination and whether additional products are linked to illnesses.”
Schnuck Markets recalled certain store-brand applesauce pouches “because the supplier, Purcell International, has notified the company of elevated levels of lead found in the cinnamon raw material,” the Saint Louis-based grocery chain says in a Nov. 3 news release.
Consumer advocacy groups worry that the number of recalled products could grow exponentially if a common ingredient like cinnamon is to blame. Grocery store shelves are packed this time of year with pumpkin-spice-flavored products that contain cinnamon.
“I suspect FDA is tracing back the cinnamon through the supply chain and will press for recalls of all products containing it,” says Tom Neltner, senior director for safer chemicals at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Neltner points to the lack of federal limits for lead in spices. In the absence of federal action, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets set a 1 ppm limit for lead in spices sold in New York in 2016. Since then, the department has initiated more than a dozen recalls for cinnamon containing more than 1 ppm lead (J. Regul. Sci. 2022, DOI: 10.21423/jrs-v10i1ishida).
The levels of lead found in cinnamon in New York have been in the 2-to-5-ppm range. “Those levels would not fully explain the 2 to 3 ppm levels in the WanaBana apple-cinnamon fruit puree since the spice was a smaller ingredient,” Neltner says. The amount of lead in the cinnamon used in the applesauce was likely much higher, he says.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of lead. The heavy metal is particularly harmful for children and their developing brains. For children with elevated blood-lead levels, consuming a diet high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C can help minimize the damage, according to the CDC.