Recalled applesauce now linked to 24 lead poisoning cases in Georgia

This image provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2023, 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 FDA is screening imports of cinnamon from multiple countries for toxic lead contamination after growing reports of children who were sickened after eating pouches of applesauce and apple puree. Cinnamon from a manufacturer in Ecuador is the “likely source” of high levels of lead found in recalled pouches of applesauce puree linked to illnesses in at least 34 children in 22 states, the FDA said Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (FDA via AP)
This image provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2023, 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 FDA is screening imports of cinnamon from multiple countries for toxic lead contamination after growing reports of children who were sickened after eating pouches of applesauce and apple puree. Cinnamon from a manufacturer in Ecuador is the “likely source” of high levels of lead found in recalled pouches of applesauce puree linked to illnesses in at least 34 children in 22 states, the FDA said Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (FDA via AP)

The number of children sickened by high levels of lead in tainted applesauce pouches has continued to grow to 24 in Georgia.

The latest tally includes 14 confirmed cases, according to the latest figures from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there are also 9 probable cases and one suspected case. The total number of 24 cases is up from 20 cases in early January. An age breakdown of the Georgia cases was not available, but Nydam said most or all are children.

The recalled pouches — sold under three brands: WanaBana, Schnucks and Weis — have been linked to 404 confirmed or suspected illnesses in 43 states, primarily in children, according to the latest information available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cases of lead poisoning began appearing in late October and the products were recalled Nov. 9. Despite the recall, some of the products remained on the shelves of some Dollar Stores in the U.S. as recently as Dec. 19, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Nydam said state health investigators are revisiting cases back to November 2022, and consulting with the parents of previous cases to see if the applesauce may be the cause of the poisoning.

Dr. Hugo Scornik, a pediatrician in Conyers who previously led the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said he thinks awareness of the poisoning is likely the biggest factor in new cases being reported so long after the recall was announced.

Lead can come from other environmental sources and can linger in the body, making finding the source of the poisoning more difficult. For children with high lead levels, an investigation is needed to rule out other causes. Most lead poisoning in children results from eating chips of deteriorating lead-based paint, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Scornik said most children poisoned by lead have no obvious immediate symptoms and a blood test is needed to determine whether a child has been poisoned. But even mild lead poisoning can cause learning problems later in life, he said.

There's no safe level of lead exposure, and lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

U.S. food inspectors found "extremely high" levels of lead in cinnamon at a plant in Ecuador that made the applesauce pouches, according to the FDA.

Cinnamon tested from the plant had lead levels more than 2,000 times higher than the maximum level proposed by the FDA, officials said. The samples tested came from ground or powdered cinnamon from Negasmart, an Ecuadorian company that supplied the spice to Austrofoods, which made the pouches.

In addition to the lead contamination, the FDA reported earlier this month they also found high levels of chromium in their testing of the recalled products. Chromium is an essential mineral found in foods and supplements, but some forms can be toxic at high levels. According to the agency, "Due to limitations in available testing methods, FDA was not able to definitively determine the form of chromium in the cinnamon apple puree sample."

There is no medicine that reverses the harm that has already occurred from lead poisoning and there is no specific antidote to treat chromium exposure.

Symptoms of lead toxicity can include headache; abdominal pain or colic; vomiting and anemia. Longer-term exposure could result in behavioral changes such as irritability; lethargy; difficulty concentrating, fatigue and weight loss.

Symptoms of chromium exposure may be nonspecific, according to the FDA. Consuming a high level of chromium exceeding dietary recommendations may result in abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and anemia, among other effects.

What should you do?

If you're not sure if you or a member of your family has consumed the product, go to the FDA's website for a full list of affected products

If you suspect that you or your child may have been exposed to lead, you should talk to your healthcare provider about getting a blood lead test. Healthcare providers and most local health departments can test for lead in the blood. Many private insurance policies cover the cost of testing for lead in the blood. The cost of blood lead testing for children enrolled in Medicaid is covered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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