The Food and Drug Administration has begun screening incoming shipments of cinnamon from multiple countries, the agency announced this week, as reported illnesses have climbed to 34 in the investigation of lead poisonings.
The FDA has ramped up its investigation in recent weeks, after authorities in North Carolinato applesauce when investigating cases of lead poisonings in the state. Cases across at least 22 states have now been linked to the pouches, which were sold nationwide under the now-recalled brands of WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned testing laboratories nationwide this week to brace for a potential influx of lead testing requests, as cases reported linked to recalled applesauce pouches have swelled.
blamed “cinnamon raw material” supplied by Ecuador-based Austrofood, the parent company of WanaBana, for the recall.
However, the FDA said it has yet to secure samples of the cinnamon used in the recalled products to test and is still working with authorities in Ecuador to track down the source.
While the agency has not received reports of other cinnamon products causing lead poisonings, the FDA said it would begin screening imports of cinnamon “to further protect public health.”
“This is a very high priority for us and we are investigating aggressively. I hope we have our arms around this,” Jim Jones, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for human foods, said Monday at an event by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.
Jones acknowledged that it was possible other foods on the market may have used the lead-contaminated ingredients.
“Our ability to be 100% confident around exactly where it is, that’s just a lot of leg work and investigative work and partnering, and we’re trying to do all those things, and hoping we can get this thing wrapped up quickly, meaning out of the food supply,” said Jones.
It is unclear what additional countries FDA is screening cinnamon shipments from. An FDA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Children ages 1 to 3 years old tested had blood lead levels as high as 29 micrograms per deciliter after consuming the applesauce, according to a CDC alert Monday
At those levels, the CDC says doctors should contact specialists or poison control centers and arrange for investigations to address the issue.
Symptoms reported by children included headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and change in activity level.
“Although children with lead exposure may have no apparent acute symptoms, even low levels of lead have been associated with learning, behavioral, and cognitive deficits,” the CDC warned in its alert, urging parents who purchased the recalled pouches to get their children tested for lead poisoning.