FDA Has a Suspect in Contamination of Applesauce

Though it's not clear what, if anything, US can do to hold him accountable
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2023 6:00 PM CST
Updated Feb 7, 2024 2:30 AM CST
FDA Suspects Contamination of Applesauce Was Intentional
This image provided by the Food and Drug Administration shows three recalled applesauce products: WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches, Schnucks-brand cinnamon-flavored applesauce pouches and variety pack, and Weis-brand cinnamon applesauce pouches.   (FDA via AP)
UPDATE Feb 7, 2024 2:30 AM CST

Authorities have named a suspect in the tainted applesauce pouches that have left more than 400 American children sickened with lead poisoning, but it's not clear what, if anything, can be done to hold anyone accountable. Carlos Aguilera, a cinnamon grinder in Ecuador, is suspected to be responsible, according to the FDA and authorities in Ecuador, CBS News reports. US officials, however, have "limited authority over foreign ingredient suppliers who do not directly ship product to the US," and as such the FDA says it "cannot take direct action" against Aguilera. He is no longer operating as a cinnamon processor, however, CNN reports.

Dec 14, 2023 6:00 PM CST

The lead found in applesauce pouches that has made children sick might have been put there on purpose, a Food and Drug Administration official said. Jim Jones, deputy commissioner for human foods, cautioned that the investigation hasn't been completed, Politico reports. "But so far all of the signals we're getting lead to an intentional act on the part of someone in the supply chain," Jones said. Several theories about how it happened are still in play. The contaminated pouches have been tied to a plant in Ecuador, and authorities there are participating in the investigation. The FDA said it's inspecting the site.

More than 60 children in the US younger than 6 have tested positive for lead poisoning after eating from the applesauce pouches, per the Washington Post. There is no level of lead in the body that experts consider safe. The brands found to have lead are Weis, WanaBana, and Schnucks. The FDA considers the contamination to probably have been "economically motivated," a category that usually means ingredients were altered to make the product more profitable.

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An effort is underway to trace the origin of the packets' cinnamon, which may have been the source of the lead, in an effort to find the offenders. "My instinct is they didn't think this product was going to end up in a country with a robust regulatory process," Jones said, per Politico. "They thought it was going to end up in places that did not have the ability to detect something like this." Parents who suspect a child was exposed to lead should look into testing, the FDA said. Jones added that the agency will "find whoever was responsible and hold them accountable." (More lead poisoning stories.)

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