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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 the making of 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.

The cinnamon supplier is not in business at this time, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA’s deputy commissioner for human foods, Jim Jones, has said he believes the cinnamon was intentionally contaminated. The addition of lead to spices and other products can increase the weight of the product and therefore increase its value. Some of the tests of cinnamon used to make the implicated applesauce showed 2,000 times the amount of lead considered to be 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 prior to export. Thus, the FDA cannot take direct action with Negasmart or Carlos Aguilera,” according to the FDA’s announcement.

“FDA has no indication 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 and were sampled by Ecuadoran officials and found to have no lead contamination. The Ecuadoran investigation and legal proceedings to determine ultimate responsibility for the contamination are still ongoing, according to the U.S. FDA.

Reports of elevated levels of lead 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 there may be some overlap of cases so the agencies’ numbers should not be added together.

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