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FDA investigates lead-tainted cinnamon after children sickened by recalled apple puree

By Jake Beardslee · November 20, 2023

In brief…

  • FDA investigating lead contamination in cinnamon imports after children sickened by apple puree pouches
  • High lead levels found in recalled apple cinnamon puree linked to Ecuador manufacturer
  • No reports of illness/high lead levels beyond recalled products, but concerns over cinnamon's safety
  • Health officials advise testing children who consumed recalled apple puree for lead exposure
The FDA is screening cinnamon imports for toxic lead contamination after elevated levels were detected in recalled apple cinnamon puree pouches that sickened over 30 children.  formulatehealth/Wikimedia

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is screening cinnamon imports from multiple countries after elevated lead levels were detected in recalled pouches of applesauce puree that sickened at least 34 children in 22 states.

The FDA said cinnamon from a manufacturer in Ecuador was the “likely source” of the high lead levels found in the recalled apple puree pouches. One pouch of the recalled WanaBana apple cinnamon puree collected from a Dollar Tree store contained lead levels over 200 times higher than the FDA’s proposed guidance, the agency reported on Friday.

While the FDA does not currently regulate specific heavy metal levels in spices, the public health alert has sparked concerns over lead in cinnamon, a popular baking spice. The FDA stated there have been no other reports of illness or high lead levels linked to cinnamon beyond the recalled apple puree pouches.

“I wouldn’t want to panic people and say if you put cinnamon in your pumpkin pie, you’re a bad grandma,” said Joanne Slavin, professor of food science at the University of Minnesota, to The Associated Press.

The recalled fruit pouches made by Procter & Gamble’s J.M. Smucker Co. include WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree, Schnucks apple cinnamon fruit puree, and Weis Quality apple cinnamon fruit puree. The products were sold at Dollar Tree, on Amazon, and other online outlets.

Health officials advise that children who may have consumed the recalled puree pouches be screened for lead levels. Reported illnesses in affected children ages 1 to 3 included headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and anemia. At least one child showed a blood lead level eight times higher than the CDC’s reference level of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, heavy metals like lead can contaminate food from soil, air, water or industrial processes. Lead exposure can impair learning, cognition and behavior in children.

The FDA stated it will continue to investigate lead contamination in cinnamon imports as a public health concern.