CHICAGO -- Lead contamination in cinnamon applesauce pouches that sickened dozens of young children may have been an "intentional act," a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official told Politico.
In an interview published on Thursday, Jim Jones, FDA's deputy commissioner for human foods, said the agency is still investigating the lead-tainted cinnamon applesauce pouches, "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."
There have been at least 65 reports of illnesses linked to apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches sold under the WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks brands, the FDA said this week. To date, all confirmed adverse events have been in children under 6 years old, CNN reported.
The agency has said it's conducting an on-site investigation at the Austrofood facility located in Ecuador and is working with Ecuadorian authorities to gather information about Negasmart, the supplier of cinnamon to Austrofood. WanaBanana USA and Austrofood previously released a statement identifying Negasmart as the supplier of cinnamon used in the pouches.
The FDA told CNN on Thursday it has no further comment on the investigation. CNN has reached out to WanaBanana for a response to the FDA official's comments.
"We're going to chase that data and find whoever was responsible and hold them accountable," Jones told Politico.
Dr. Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center, told CNN that contaminated spices are "incredibly common." Some contamination occurs in natural products, including rice and apples, because they're grown in soil that contains metals.
"But then we do sometimes see intentionally contaminated products that are sold by weight. And the best way to make something heavy is to put metal in it, right?" she said. "So that's why I think we frequently hear, maybe on the order of once or twice a month, about a product - for some reason it's often turmeric - but a spice that's contaminated with lead."
Calello emphasized the importance of regular lead screening for children at 1 and 2 years of age at their pediatricians' office, noting that because of the pandemic some routines may have fallen behind.
Lead is toxic to humans, and there is no safe level. It can cause developmental delays in children, as well as head, stomach and muscle aches, vomiting, anemia, irritability, fatigue and weight loss.
The pouches have been recalled and should not be consumed. The FDA warns the products have a long shelf life and families should check pouches they have at home to ensure they haven't been recalled.
Austrofood and Wanabana USA are in the process of establishing a program to reimburse some of those health care costs, according to a statement earlier this month. The companies are also working on a website to facilitate refunds for the recalled products.
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