The Food and Drug Administration has begun screening incoming cinnamon shipments from several countries, the agency announced this week, as reported illnesses climbed to 34 amid lead poisoning investigations..
The FDA has stepped up its investigation in recent weeks, after authorities in North Carolinawith applesauce while investigating lead poisoning cases in the state. Cases in at least 22 states have now been linked to the pouches, which were sold nationwide under the now-recalled brands of WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned testing labs nationwide this week to prepare for a potential influx of requests for lead testing as reported cases linked to recalled applesauce packets increased .
The FDA said its “primary hypothesis” now attributes the toxic lead levels to cinnamon used to produce applesauce. Other fruit purees made by the recalled brands did not have elevated lead levels and have not been recalled.
Samples collected from a Dollar Tree WanaBana Apple Puree and Cinnamon product tested positive for lead levels “more than 200 times higher” than the FDA’s proposed limits for products intended for babies and toddlers. young children, the agency said.
On-site inspections are now underway, according to an FDA chart, alongside efforts to trace the ingredients that caused the poisonings.
Schnuck Markets had also previously blamed the recall on “cinnamon raw material” supplied by Ecuador-based WanaBana’s parent company Austrofood.
However, the FDA said it has not yet obtained samples of the cinnamon used in the recalled products for testing and is still working with Ecuadorian authorities to trace the source.
Although the agency has not received reports of other cinnamon products causing lead poisoning, the FDA said it would begin controlling cinnamon imports “to further protect public health “.
“This is a very high priority for us and we’re investigating it aggressively. I hope we have our arms around this,” Jim Jones, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for human foods, said Monday in a statement. of an event organized by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.
Jones acknowledged that it was possible that other foods on the market had used lead-contaminated ingredients.
“Our ability to be 100% sure of the exact situation, it’s just a lot of groundwork and investigation and partnership, and we’re trying to do all of those things, and hopefully we can finish this case quickly, meaning food supply,” Jones said.
It is unclear from which additional countries the FDA controls cinnamon shipments. An FDA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Children ages 1 to 3 tested had blood lead levels as high as 29 micrograms per deciliter after consuming applesauce, according to a CDC alert Monday.
At these levels, the CDC says doctors should contact specialists or poison control centers and organize investigations to resolve the problem.
Symptoms reported by children included headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and change in activity level.
“Although children exposed to lead may have no apparent acute symptoms, even low levels of lead have been associated with learning, behavioral, and cognitive deficits,” the CDC warned in its alert, urging parents who purchased the recalled sachets to have their children tested. for lead poisoning.