Recalled cinnamon applesauce pouches that potentially poisoned 65 young children might have been intentionally contaminated with lead, the Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods Jim Jones said to Politico on Friday.
The FDA is investigating several theories for how the pouches became contaminated, but Jones told Politico it currently believes the act was economically motivated – which could mean someone in the supply chain altered the goods to cheapen production with the intention of selling it at an elevated price.
The products were marketed to parents and children under three brands: WanaBana, Schnucks and Weis. Health officials have launched an onsite inspection of a plant in Ecuador that made the applesauce pouches.
Contaminated cinnamon is the likely source of the lead, the health agency said. An FDA team is collecting samples from the Austrofoods plant that shipped the now recalled applesauce pouches sold widely at Dollar Tree and other stores across the U.S.
The agency said health officials in Ecuador found that cinnamon from Austrofood's supplier had higher levels of lead than the country allows. The company, Negasmart, is facing sanctions while officials there track down the source of the cinnamon, the FDA reported Tuesday.
As of Dec. 11, 65 children all under the age of six from dozens of states have reported illnesses potentially linked to the products, which were recalled in late October, the FDA said.
The FDA's original alert came after a State of North Carolina investigation prompted by four children exhibiting elevated blood lead levels indicated potential acute lead toxicity. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services identified the WanaBana fruit puree pouches as a possible cause.
After testing the pouches, officials detected extremely high concentrations of lead, enough to cause acute lead toxicity in children.
The FDA said that even low levels of lead in the bloodstream can cause cognitive impairment in children that is irreversible. Most children won't have obvious immediate symptoms, but if parents suspect their children have been exposed to lead, the FDA said they should talk to their child’s doctor about getting a blood test.
Short-term symptoms from lead toxicity include headache, abdominal pain/colic, vomiting and anemia. The FDA said lead toxicity can cause longer-term symptoms, including irritability, lethargy and fatigue.
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