The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched an investigation into a growing outbreak of lead poisoning potentially linked to recalled applesauce pouches, with suspicions that the contamination may have been an intentional act. Over 100 children across multiple states have been reported ill after consuming the pouches.
Timeline of the Outbreak Investigation
|Schnucks begins receiving consumer complaints about off-tastes in applesauce pouches. Retains pouches for testing.
|November 9, 2022
|FDA informed of consumer complaint involving child with elevated blood lead level who ate recalled pouches.
|November 11, 2022
|FDA alerts public to recall of pouches by Schnucks and Weis Markets due to potential lead contamination.
|Additional children reported ill across multiple states after eating recalled pouches. Some hospitalized.
|December 13, 2022
|FDA conducts on-site investigation at facility in Ecuador linked to recalled pouches.
|December 14, 2022
|Politico reports FDA foods director suspects contamination may have been intentional.
The issues first came to light in October 2022 when Schnucks supermarkets began receiving consumer complaints about off-tastes in their apple cinnamon applesauce pouches. Schnucks retained samples of the product for testing, which revealed concerning lead levels up to six times the legal limit.
On November 9th, the FDA was informed of a consumer complaint involving a child with an elevated blood lead level who had eaten the recalled pouches. The child was reportedly hospitalized for treatment. This prompted Schnucks and Weis Markets to officially recall their pouches on November 11th due to potential lead contamination.
Over the next month, additional reports came in of children from multiple states falling ill after consuming the tainted applesauce pouches. Some were hospitalized with concerning lead levels. As of mid-December, over 100 children have been impacted across 12 states.
On December 13th, the FDA conducted an on-site investigation at a distribution facility in Ecuador linked to the recalled pouches. They collected records and samples for analysis. The next day, Politico released an interview with Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, who said the agency suspects the contamination may have been an intentional act rather than an accident.
Health Impacts of Lead Exposure
Lead is an extremely toxic heavy metal, especially for young children. Even low levels can impact brain development, leading to reduced IQ, learning disabilities, impaired growth, and behavioral problems. Very high lead levels can cause seizures, coma, and even death in severe cases.
With over 100 children now sickened, health officials are deeply concerned about lasting impacts to their development. Some of the highest lead levels were reported in very young children around 1-2 years old at critical stages of growth.
“Parents need to take this very seriously and get their children tested if they consumed these recalled products,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State Health Commissioner. “Lead exposure is dangerous with lifelong implications.”
Ongoing FDA Investigation and Prevention Measures
The FDA has escalated the situation to their Office of Criminal Investigations given the suspected intentional contamination.
“This does not appear to be accidental contamination. We have already uncovered records from the facility in Ecuador showing concerning practices including improper use of lead-contaminated machinery parts near food,” reported Deputy Commissioner Yiannas.
The FDA is analyzing product samples for sources of the lead and trying to determine if a disgruntled employee may have intentionally tainted batches of applesauce. They are also auditing safety practices at the Ecuador facility.
Several lawmakers criticized the FDA’s handling of the situation, demanding increased scrutiny around food imports.
“Why is lead getting into so many consumer products in the first place?” asked Senator Rick Scott. “The FDA needs to do more to ensure safety standards are enforced.”
In the wake of the outbreak, the FDA has also promised to review allowable lead limits in baby foods, which haven’t been updated in decades. They are partnering with the World Health Organization on an initiative to reduce lead contamination globally.
The agency recommends parents immediately stop using all recalled applesauce pouches and discard any leftover products. Families should consult their doctor about testing children who may have consumed the tainted pouches. Over a hundred children already gravely sickened signals the real dangers here. This growing outbreak and suspected sabotage raises alarming questions about the safety of some imported foods.
The FDA’s investigation remains active and ongoing as officials work to confirm where contamination occurred and prevent further public harm. We hope to uncover exactly what happened with these applesauce pouches in coming weeks. In the meantime, preventing any more lead exposure remains paramount, especially for vulnerable young children.
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