Recalled applesauce bags now linked to more than 200 lead poisoning cases in 33 states, CDC says


The health authorities are now investigating at least 205 cases of lead poisoning across 33 different states linked to contaminated applesauce, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday. That’s up from 125 cases in the agency’s last weekly tally.

The growing number of cases comes as the Food and Drug Administration continues its investigation into the source of the tainted cinnamon to blame for the contamination. The FDA has faced “limited jurisdiction” in Ecuador, where the FDA says it cannot take “direct action” to investigate some of those suspected of being behind the poisonings.

State health departments reporting cases to the CDC now also include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington — along with more than 20 other states that previously reported cases.

It is unclear how many cases have been reported from each state. A CDC spokesman said the agency had decided to withhold state-specific counts, citing patient privacy.

Federal officials have urged state health departments to seek out cases of lead poisoning, which may fly under the radar if people who ate the lead-tainted applesauce don’t get blood tests from their doctor for the toxic heavy metal.

Most previously reported cases have been in young children Who is particularly vulnerable to developmental problems caused by lead poisoning. Some small children had consumed the bags several times a day, according to early reports so far released by the FDA in response to a records request by CBS News.

AustroFood, manufacturer of the now recalled WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks applesauce pouches with cinnamon flavor, said Monday it will reimburse customers for up to $150 for lead tests.

Packages of recalled applesauce
WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches, Schnucks brand applesauce pouches with cinnamon flavor and variety pack and Weis brand cinnamon applesauce pouches were recalled due to high lead levels.

FDA/AP


Officials have also fought for get bags from the store shelvesafter the first recall at the end of October.

The FDA had continued to report the bags in Dollar Tree stores for weeks, prompting a joint effort with state and local health officials to look at locations with the lead-tainted bags still displayed on shelves.

“FDA is aware that as of December 13, recalled WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Puree product (including the recalled three-pack) was still on the shelves of several Dollar Tree stores in several states,” the agency says. said in an update Monday.

One theory: “Economically motivated counterfeiting”

Testing by FDA investigators from AustroFood’s plant in Ecuador found that cinnamon that had been added to the applesauce bags was contaminated with “extremely high” concentrations — as much as 5,110 ppm — of lead.

That’s thousands of times higher than what experts generally believe is the safe maximum level of lead in spices, the FDA says.

A congressional report calling for cracking down on dangerous levels of lead in baby food had expressed concern about the concentrations to a fraction of that size.

One theory the FDA has investigated is whether the cinnamon was contaminated as a result of “financially motivated counterfeiting,” an agency spokesman said. Economically motivated adulteration is when a person or company switches ingredients or adds filler to make a product more profitable — the FDA also refers to it as “food fraud.” An agency spokesman declined to identify which other theories investigators have pursued.

In the past, other spices suffered turmeric associated with lead poisonings has been suspected to have been contaminated by sellers trying to improve its weight and color.

The contaminated cinnamon is suspected to have been supplied through a distributor in Ecuador called Negasmart, sourced from a mill in the country that has now closed.

But in addition to AustroFood’s own factory, the FDA says it “still relies on officials in Ecuador to support the investigation of Negasmart,” since it did not directly ship its products to the U.S.

“We’re relying on what Ecuador gives us. They’ve had a leadership change recently, and it’s taking some time for us to get that information,” an FDA official said Friday in a call with state and local authorities. health authorities.

The official said the FDA had been waiting for a response from Ecuador’s regulatory authorities to trace the contaminated cinnamon. FDA’s Ecuadorian counterpart, the Agencia Nacional de Regulación, Control y Vigilancia Sanitaria or ARCSA, swore in a new director on 6 Dec.

Meanwhile, more than a hundred other food samples tested by the FDA and state agencies for lead have tested negative, the FDA says. Samples that tested negative include other non-cinnamon flavors of WanaBana that ARCSA had originally claimed may also be contaminated.

AustroFood was Negasmart’s only customer exporting food to the US, the FDA says. Other cinnamon imports screened by the FDA have not been found to have elevated lead levels.

Tests from other cinnamon importers in Ecuador “do not appear to be contaminated with lead,” the FDA said ARCSA had told them.

“We continue to work closely with Ecuadorian officials as they conduct their own rapidly evolving investigations into the source of the contamination,” the FDA said.


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