Lead-Contaminated Fruit Pouches Poison Dozens of Children Nationwide: FDA

At least 52 toddlers from 25 states fell sick after reported exposure to recalled apple puree products contaminated with lead.
Lead-Contaminated Fruit Pouches Poison Dozens of Children Nationwide: FDA
Three recalled applesauce products—WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches, Schnucks-brand cinnamon-flavored applesauce pouches and variety pack, and Weis-brand cinnamon applesauce pouches. (FDA via AP)
Bill Pan

At least 52 toddlers from 25 states across the nation have suffered adverse events linked to recalled cinnamon apple puree and applesauce contaminated with lead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.

The reports of adverse events involve children as young as less than 1 year old and as old as 4 years of age, the federal agency said Tuesday in an update to a safety alert issued last month.

The initial safety alert was prompted by reports of four children in North Carolina with elevated blood lead levels, indicating potential acute lead toxicity. Those children fell ill after reported exposure to apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches manufactured in Ecuador and sold under WanaBana brands, according to the FDA.

On October 31, WanaBana launched a voluntary recall of all WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches. On November 9, the Florida-based beverage company expanded its recall effort to include all Schnucks- and Weis-branded cinnamon applesauce pouches.

WanaBana pouches have been sold nationwide by grocery chains such as Dollar Tree, as well as online retailers such as Amazon, according to the FDA. Schnucks pouches and variety packs are sold at Schnucks and Eatwell Markets grocery stores. Weis pouches are sold at Weis grocery stores.

The FDA said it is working with Dollar Tree to remove the recalled WanaBana pouches from shelves in several states.

“Consumers should not eat, sell, or serve recalled WanaBana, Schnucks, or Weis-brand apple cinnamon pouches and should discard them,” the agency said. “These products have a long shelf life. Consumers should check their homes and discard these products.”

“To properly discard the product, consumers and retailers should carefully open the pouch and empty the content into a trash can before discarding the packaging to prevent others from salvaging recalled product from the trash. Clean up any spills after discarding the product, then wash your hands,” it added.

In the meantime, the FDA said it is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the reports. It also advises parents to contact their health providers about getting a blood test if they suspect that their children might have been exposed to lead.

Most children have no obvious immediate symptoms of lead exposure, although short-term exposure could result in symptoms such as headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and anemia, the FDA said.

Longer-term exposure could result in additional symptoms, including irritability, lethargy, fatigue, muscle aches or muscle prickling, occasional abdominal discomfort, constipation, difficulty concentrating or muscular exhaustion, headache, tremors, and weight loss.

According to the CDC, there is no “safe level” of lead exposure for young children. With that said, the agency uses a blood lead reference value of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with higher blood lead levels than 95 percent of American children aged between 1 and 5 years.

In a Nov. 13 report of its investigation on 22 cases of children consuming lead-contaminated applesauce pouches, the CDC said those children had been found to have a blood lead level ranging from 4 to 29 micrograms per deciliter.

Those 22 children, according to the CDC report, experienced signs and symptoms including headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, change in activity level, and anemia.

“Lead toxicity primarily targets the central nervous system,” the CDC warned, noting that children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults because their nervous systems are still developing. “Children also tend to absorb a higher fraction of ingested lead than adults.”

Although children with lead exposure don’t usually experience acute symptoms, even low levels of lead have been associated with learning, behavioral, and cognitive deficits, the agency said. Meanwhile, high blood lead levels in adults can increase their risk for high blood pressure, other cardiovascular effects, kidney problems, adverse reproductive outcomes, and gout.