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The FDA is investigating whether lead in applesauce pouches was deliberately added

This image provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows 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
This image provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows 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.

The Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether lead linked to three brands of applesauce purees was added intentionally, an official said.

Over the past several weeks, three brands of cinnamon-flavored purees have been under scrutiny after concerns that the cinnamon inside the popular children's foods contained lead and sickened children.

"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 Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods Jim Jones said in an interview with Politico published Thursday.

There are multiple working theories, Jones said, one of which is that adulteration was economically motivated, meaning ingredients were modified so that companies can manufacture a cheap item and sell it for a higher price, according to Politico.

The FDA did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.

WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches, Schnucks-brand cinnamon-flavored applesauce pouches and Weis-brand cinnamon applesauce pouches were all recalled in the fall after four children in North Carolina had elevated blood lead levels.

The FDA said officials visited the Austrofoods facility in Ecuador, where some of the children's food was distributed. Austrofoods and Wanabana USA said their investigation determined that the cinnamon inside the children's snacks was the root cause of the high lead levels, according to the FDA.

The federal agency also said on Tuesday it was working with Ecuadorian authorities to gather information on Austrofoods' cinnamon supplier, Negasmart, and whether any more of the cinnamon contained in the recalled foods were used in other products exported to the U.S. According to the FDA, Negasmart does not directly export its products to the U.S.

As of Dec. 11, the FDA has received 65 reports of "adverse events potentially linked to recalled product" — all of whom were under 6 years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also working with state and local health departments to investigate cases.

WanaBana's fruit purees are sold in national retailers including Amazon and Dollar Tree. Schnucks-brand of applesauce pouches are typically sold at the midwest grocery chains Schnucks and Eatwell Markets. Weis-brand applesauce is sold at Weis grocery stores in the Mid-Atlantic.

Most children exposed to lead have "no obvious immediate symptoms," according to the FDA. But short-term exposure could include a headache, vomiting, abdominal pain and anemia. Longer-term exposure to lead can cause irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, tremor and muscle aches or burning. If there is any suspicion that a child may have been exposed to lead, the FDA recommends parents to reach out to a health care provider about getting a blood test.

The FDA advises families to check their homes and carefully discard any recalled WanaBana, Schnucks or Weis-brand apple cinnamon pouches.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.