FDA reviews cinnamon imports after more children sickened by applesauce containing lead

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating cinnamon imports from several countries for toxic lead contamination after increasing reports of children becoming sick after eating bags of applesauce and apple puree.

Cinnamon from a manufacturer in Ecuador is the “likely source” of high levels of lead found in recalled bags of applesauce puree that have been linked to illnesses in at least 34 children in 22 states, the FDA said Friday.

However, the agency noted there are no other reports of illness or elevated blood lead levels linked to the spice, which is popular in holiday baking.

The agency has not yet been able to collect and directly test samples of the cinnamon contained in the product. Import records show WanaBana of Coral Gables, Florida, received shipments of cinnamon apple fruit puree from Austrofood, a manufacturer in Ecuador.

A bag of recalled WanaBana apple cinnamon puree collected at a Dollar Tree store was found to have lead levels more than 200 times higher than proposed FDA guidelines would allow, officials said.

The agency does not regulate the specific levels of heavy metals — including lead — in spices, said Joanne Slavin, a food science professor at the University of Minnesota.

Consumers should be aware that cinnamon may contain lead, she said, but the FDA’s news release Friday said there was no evidence that cinnamon products other than the applesauce puree were affected.

“I don’t want to panic people and say if you put cinnamon in your pumpkin pie you’re a bad grandma,” she said.

Illnesses related to the bags have been reported in children ages 1 to 3, with at least one child having blood lead levels eight times higher than the worrisome level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

There is no safe limit for lead exposure, but the CDC uses a marker of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with higher levels than most. The lead content in the blood of the affected children was between 4 and 29 micrograms per deciliter.

The recalled fruit products include WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches and Schnucks and Weis brand cinnamon applesauce. They were sold at Dollar Tree, Amazon and other online outlets.

Children who may have eaten the products should be tested for lead levels, health officials said. Sick children reported headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and anemia, but often the children showed no symptoms.

Lead exposure can cause serious learning, cognitive and behavioral problems. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, heavy metals like lead can enter food products through soil, air, water or industrial processes.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Science and Educational Media Group of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. All content is solely the responsibility of the Associated Press.


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