Cinnamon applesauce investigation finds lead levels more than 2,000 times higher than proposed standards, FDA says

Tests of cinnamon samples collected during a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection of a facility in Ecuador linked with contaminated applesauce pouches turned up lead levels that were more than 2,000 times higher than proposed standards, the Agency said at the end of December 2023.  The FDA continues to investigate high lead levels in cinnamon applesauce pouches that were sold in the US.  The Agency says there have been at least 69 reports of illnesses – all in children under 6 – linked to pouches sold under the WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks brands, and those products have been recalled.  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which uses different data sources, says it has gotten reports of 205 confirmed, probable or suspected cases in 33 states.

Lead contamination in applesauce pouches may have been ‘intentional act,’ FDA official tells Politico.

During a recent FDA inspection of an Austrofood facility in Ecuador, Investigators took samples of cinnamon that were supplied by another company, Negasmart.  The samples had “extremely high levels of lead contamination, 5110 parts per million (ppm) and 2270 ppm,” the Agency said in an update at the end of December 2023.  “For context, the international standard-setting body, Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is considering adopting a maximum level of 2.5 ppm for lead in bark spices, including cinnamon, in 2024.”

That inspection is over, and testing did not turn up any other products that should be recalled, the FDA says.  However, it is still looking into whether this cinnamon may have been used in other products that have come into the US, and increased screening of some imported cinnamon products remains in place.  An FDA Official told Politico that the investigation suggests that the lead contamination may have been “an intentional act on the part of someone in the supply chain.”


“We’re going to chase that data and find whoever was responsible and hold them accountable,” said Jim Jones, the Agency’s Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods.  Dr. Diane Calello, Executive and Medical Director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center, told CNN that contaminated spices are “incredibly common.”  Some contamination occurs in natural products, including rice and apples, because they are grown in soil that contains metals.

“But then we do sometimes see intentionally contaminated products that are sold by weight.  And the best way to make something heavy is to put metal in it, right?” she said.  “So that’s why I think we frequently hear, maybe on the order of once or twice a month, about a product – for some reason, it’s often turmeric – but a spice that’s contaminated with lead.”

The FDA recommends that anyone who may have consumed the recalled products get their blood tested for lead.  Lead is toxic to humans, and there is no safe level.  Exposure is not typically apparent right away; however, it can cause developmental delays in children.  Initial symptoms of lead poisoning may include head, stomach and muscle aches, vomiting, anemia, irritability, fatigue and weight loss.

REFERENCE:  CNN; 18 DEC 2023; Katherine Dillinger