Ecuador Identifies Cinnamon Processor as Source of Lead Poisoning in US Children

Ecuadorian authorities have traced the origin of the lead-contaminated cinnamon that caused hundreds of cases of lead poisoning in US children who consumed fruit pouches with the spice. The cinnamon came from a processor in Ecuador, who received the raw material from Sri Lanka. The FDA and the CDC are working with the Ecuadorian officials to prevent further exposure and harm.


How the Lead Contamination Was Discovered

The lead contamination was discovered in October 2023, when a pediatrician in Connecticut noticed elevated blood lead levels in several children who had eaten WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches. The pouches were manufactured by Austrofoods, a company based in Ecuador, and distributed by WanaBana, a company based in Florida. The pediatrician alerted the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which notified the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The FDA tested the pouches and found high levels of lead and chromium in the cinnamon, which was added as a flavoring agent. The FDA issued a recall of the pouches, as well as two other products made by Austrofoods with the same cinnamon: Schnucks apple sauce pouches with cinnamon and Weis apple sauce. The FDA also warned consumers not to eat the products and to dispose of them safely.

How the Lead Contamination Was Traced

The FDA and the CDC collaborated with the Ecuadorian regulatory agency ARCSA to trace the source of the lead contamination. ARCSA conducted an investigation and identified Carlos Aguilera, a cinnamon processor in Ecuador, as the likely source of the contamination. Aguilera supplied the cinnamon to Negasmart, another Ecuadorian company, which in turn supplied it to Austrofoods.

ARCSA tested the cinnamon sticks that Aguilera received from Sri Lanka, and found no lead contamination. However, the cinnamon powder that Aguilera processed and sent to Negasmart was contaminated with high levels of lead and chromium. ARCSA said that Aguilera’s business is not operating at this time, and that the investigation and legal proceedings are still ongoing.

How the Lead Contamination Affected the US Children

The lead contamination affected hundreds of US children who consumed the fruit pouches with the tainted cinnamon. As of February 2, 2024, the CDC had received reports of 413 suspected, probable, or confirmed cases of lead poisoning in 43 states. Most of the cases were in young children, who are more vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure.

Lead poisoning can cause serious and irreversible health problems, such as brain damage, learning difficulties, behavioral problems, anemia, and kidney damage. Lead poisoning can also affect pregnant women and their unborn babies. The CDC recommends that children under six years old and pregnant women should have their blood lead levels tested if they have eaten the recalled products.

How the Lead Contamination Was Prevented and Treated

The FDA and the CDC have taken several measures to prevent and treat the lead contamination. The FDA has worked with the Ecuadorian officials to ensure that no more contaminated cinnamon enters the US market. The FDA has also inspected the facilities of Austrofoods and WanaBana, and has taken enforcement actions against them. The FDA has also issued public alerts and advisories to inform consumers and health care providers about the recall and the health risks.

The CDC has provided guidance and assistance to the state and local health departments, as well as to the health care providers, to identify and treat the affected children. The CDC has also conducted epidemiological and laboratory studies to understand the extent and the impact of the lead exposure. The CDC has also offered educational and outreach materials to raise awareness and prevent further exposure.

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