Cinnamon producer named in outbreak of elevated lead levels in children

Cinnamon producer named in outbreak of elevated lead levels in children

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revealed the name of the company that supplied tainted cinnamon used to make applesauce marketed for 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. To date, more than 400 children have been diagnosed with elevated levels of lead in their blood after eating the applesauce.

Three implicated brands have been recalled. They are Wanabana, Schnucks and Weis.

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 not in business at this time. 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. Some of the tests of cinnamon used to make the implicated applesauce showed 2,000 times the amount of lead considered safe.

“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 the FDA’s announcement.

“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. According to the U.S. FDA, the Ecuadoran investigation and legal proceedings to determine ultimate responsibility for the contamination are still ongoing.

Reports of elevated lead levels in children who ate the applesauce from the implicated pouches began in the fall of 2023. As of Feb. 5 this year, the FDA had not received any additional reports of “adverse events” linked to the applesauce. In January, the FDA was reporting 90 patients in the outbreak. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also been investigating the outbreak of children with elevated levels of lead and as of Feb. 2 had received 100 confirmed cases, 277 probable cases, and 36 suspected cases for a total of 413 cases from 43 different states. The CDC and FDA use different reporting structures, and cases may overlap, so the agencies’ numbers should not be added together.

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