Lead contamination in applesauce pouches may have been intentional, FDA says

The lead contamination in recalled cinnamon applesauce pouches that potentially poisoned at least 65 children may have been intentional, the Food and Drug Administration said on Friday.

The FDA has been investigating the lead contamination in the cinnamon-flavored applesauce products from Florida-based food manufacturer WanaBana since October.

The agency has homed in on the cinnamon specifically as the source of the lead.

A spokesperson for the FDA said that one of the agency’s current theories is that the cinnamon contamination was the result of “economically motivated adulteration.”

Politico first reported the contamination theory.

WanaBana did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Economically motivated adulteration, or “food fraud,” can occur when a cheaper ingredient is added to a product to enhance it or bulk it up, but is not disclosed, according to the agency. One example, the agency said, is when lead-based dyes are added to spices to give the product a certain color.

“As this is an ongoing investigation, the FDA can only confirm this is one of the theories at this time,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “Additional investigation needs to occur before FDA reaches any conclusions. The FDA will continue to keep the public updated as the investigation unfolds.”

The recall included three products, all made by WanaBana:  WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree, Schnucks apple sauce pouches with cinnamon and Weis cinnamon apple sauce. 

Last week, the agency said it conducted an on-site inspection of the facility in Ecuador that made the applesauce pouches. A separate investigation by Ecuadorian authorities found the cinnamon, from the supplier Negasmart, had levels of lead that exceeded what is allowed in the country, according to the FDA. NBC News was unable to immediately reach Negasmart.

The FDA said last month that parents should not buy the recalled products as it investigates the cases.