Lead contamination in applesauce pouches may have been deliberate, FDA says

U.S. officials are investigating whether lead found in cinnamon applesauce pouches sold nationwide may have been added deliberately, according to multiple reports.

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Since regulators began investigating the contaminated pouches in October, more than 150 children in nearly three dozen states are believed to have fallen ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. The contamination prompted the recall of cinnamon applesauce pouches sold under the WanaBana, Schnucks and Weis brands.

“We’re still in the midst of our investigation. But so far all of the signals we’re getting lead to an intentional act on the part of someone in the supply chain and we’re trying to sort of figure that out,” FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods Jim Jones told Politico last week.

The FDA is considering several theories to explain how high levels of lead ended up in the pouches, including the possibility that they were adulterated for economic reasons, Politico and NBC News reported. Often in such cases, food is made to appear more expensive, such as when companies add cheaper vegetable oil to olive oil and sell it as 100% olive oil, according to the FDA.

“My instinct is they didn’t think this product was going to end up in a country with a robust regulatory process,” Jones told Politico. “They thought it was going to end up in places that did not have the ability to detect something like this.”

Investigators believe the lead found in the applesauce pouches, which were made in Ecuador, came from the cinnamon. Authorities in the U.S. and Ecuador said the company Negasmart supplied the spice to food manufacturer Austrofoods.

Negasmart “is currently under an Ecuadorian administrative sanctions process to determine the responsible party for the contamination,” officials with the FDA said earlier this month.

In October, WanaBana recalled all its apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches. The company later expanded the recall to include some Schnucks and Weis cinnamon applesauce pouches.

Illnesses believed to be linked to the applesauce recall have been reported in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin, according to officials.