Dec 19, 2023 - News

NC health worker cracked international applesauce lead poisoning case

Packets of tainted applesauce.

Packets of the recalled applesauce. Photo: Matt Ramey — of Raleigh! — for the Washington Post via Getty Images

State health department worker Alan Huneycutt was investigating lead poisoning in two Western North Carolina children when he uncovered the unlikely culprit: applesauce.

Why it matters: The longtime environmental health specialist's discovery triggered an international investigation and led to a national recall, the Washington Post reports.

What's happening: Poisonings across the country have been linked to Ecuador-based company Austrofood's cinnamon applesauce packages, which are sold under the brands WanaBana, Schnucks and Weis.

  • The source of lead is the cinnamon in the pouches — some of which have tested at more than 500 times the acceptable thresholds, North Carolina health officials tell the Post.

The latest: The Food and Drug Administration also believes the lead pouches may have been contaminated on purpose, an official told Politico last week.

The big picture: At least 118 cases of lead poisoning have been confirmed or are suspected in 31 states, the outlet found.

  • The FDA has received 64 reports of kids under 6 who have had "adverse effects" linked to the snacks.

Zoom in: "Some state health investigators say the tainted applesauce may never have been discovered if not for the tenacious public health investigation by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which managed to solve the mystery of how two toddlers were exposed to high levels of lead despite living in a home with no significant lead hazards," the Post writes.

Threat level: The discovery has rekindled scrutiny of the FDA, and questions of whether it's adequately regulating toxic metals in kids' foods.

  • Two congressional reports released in 2021 found many baby and toddler foods contained high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, which could cause damage to developing brains.
  • Another report in 2019 tested more than 150 baby and toddler foods and found 95% had detectable levels of heavy metals, according to the Post.
  • High levels of lead exposure can slow growth, delay puberty, and lead to lower IQ levels and developmental disabilities.

Be smart: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal lead screening for kids between 12 and 24 months.

  • Learn more about the recall here.
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