F.D.A. Urges Recall of Cinnamon Brands Tainted by Lead

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The Food and Drug Administration is telling consumers to throw out certain brands of cinnamon that were found to have elevated levels of lead, and it urged companies to recall the products from store shelves.

The agency conducted tests across the country after at least 460 children were sickened last year by illnesses linked to applesauce pouches. Those products had been contaminated with very high levels of lead from cinnamon processed in Ecuador.

The F.D.A.’s latest tests, however, detected far lower levels, 2 to 3 parts per million, in the cinnamon. In contrast, the cinnamon from Ecuador that sickened children last year had 2,200 to 5,100 parts per million.

“Although we have concern about these products in the safety alert, they do not present the same level of risk to human health as the cinnamon in the apple purée and applesauce products,” Conrad Choiniere, an F.D.A. food official, said in a release on Wednesday.

Lead is a potent toxin that is particularly hazardous to young children and has been tied to learning and behavior challenges as well as developmental delays. The agency said no illnesses were reported in relation to the latest batches of cinnamon, which were singled out over elevated lead levels after tests of 75 samples from retail stores.

The latest batches of cinnamon and the applesauce pouches were both sold at Dollar Tree stores. The company has said it is committed to the safety of the products it sells. Brands that the F.D.A. has urged companies to recall include Supreme Tradition cinnamon, sold exclusively at Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores. Other cinnamon with elevated lead levels in the recent tests included the La Fiesta brand sold at La Superior SuperMercados and the Marcum brand sold at Save A Lot.

People who have the products should dispose of them, the agency said.

The agency also said that it had written to makers of cinnamon encouraging them to ensure the safety of their products.

Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports, which tests baby food for heavy metals, said the agency’s review showed that it recognized the potential problem.

“It’s a positive development and reassuring to consumers,” he said. “It also highlights the need to set up a system that prevents things like this from happening.”

Last year, pouches of cinnamon applesauce sold at Dollar Tree and under some private grocery labels were linked to children with high levels of lead in their blood. The F.D.A. has said that it believes that cinnamon was intentionally contaminated with lead chromate powder.

The problem has long been known in the spice industry. The powder is sometimes poured into yellow spices like turmeric or curry to make the color pop or to add weight to a commodity sold by the pound.

Made in Ecuador, the lead-infused cinnamon was mixed into applesauce pouches widely consumed by infants and toddlers. The F.D.A. ultimately worked with the applesauce maker to recall three million pouches and has said it believes that this eliminated the tainted cinnamon from the U.S. food supply.

A Times investigation found that the applesauce sailed through numerous checkpoints in the food-safety system. The cinnamon was not tested by the applesauce maker in Ecuador, F.D.A. records showed, despite requirements that foreign food makers ensure that their products are safe. The U.S. importers who have a duty to vet foreign food let the product pass to store shelves.

The poisoning occurred as the F.D.A. failed to meet the goals set by a landmark food safety law to perform 19,000 overseas inspections a year. Last year it completed 1,200 such reviews.

The applesauce was most likely consumed by children in 44 states whose median blood-lead level was six times the level found in the water crisis caused by lead pipes a decade ago in Flint, Mich.

Doctors who specialize in caring for children with lead exposure have advised parents to ensure that their children have diets rich in iron and calcium, which enter the body through the same pathways as lead. They also suggest that parents feed children a wide variety of food so they are not overexposed to a single item.

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