FRIDAY, Nov. 17 (Healthday News) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday it has found early evidence that cinnamon may be the source of high levels of lead in fruit puree pouches that have now sickened 34 children.

The agency, in partnership with the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, has been investigating illnesses linked to the consumption of Apple Cinnamon Fruit Puree pouches made in Ecuador and sold under the WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks brands. All of these products have already been recalled.

In its updated alert, the FDA said health officials have detected very high levels of lead in one product sample of WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Puree collected from Dollar Tree. The level detected was 2.18 parts per million, which is more than 200 times greater than the action level the FDA has proposed in draft guidance for fruit purees and similar products intended for babies and young children. 

So far, sample analysis of WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks fruit puree pouches that do not contain cinnamon and are not part of the recall have not shown elevated levels of lead.

The agency said its leading hypothesis is now that the cinnamon used in the recalled pouches is the likely source of contamination, but the agency has not yet been able to collect and test samples of the cinnamon used in the recalled products. The FDA added that it is working with Ecuadorian authorities to pinpoint the source of the cinnamon, while also screening incoming shipments of cinnamon from multiple countries for lead contamination.   

In its initial alert on the recall issued in late October, the FDA said four children in North Carolina were the first to be found to have high levels of lead in their blood that was linked to the WanaBana products. 

Cases of high blood lead levels in children have now been reported in 22 states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

By law, food manufacturers have a responsibility to prevent chemical hazards when needed, the FDA noted. This includes measures to lower or eliminate the presence of lead in their products.

The FDA has warned families not to eat or serve these products and encourages them to throw out the pouches or return them to the store where they bought them for a refund.

Caregivers should take any children who may have eaten these products to have blood tests to check for lead exposure, the CDC added.

Lead is toxic to humans, particularly children, and there is no safe level of exposure, the CDC says. Exposure can cause developmental delays in children. Initial symptoms of lead poisoning may include head, stomach and muscle aches, vomiting, anemia, irritability, fatigue and weight loss.

More information

Visit the CDC for more on the dangers of lead exposure.

SOURCE: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, health alert, Nov. 17, 2023