Elevated lead found in six ground cinnamon spice brands, FDA warns

Cinnamon sticks. Generic Photo.

Elevated levels of lead have been detected in six brands of ground cinnamon spice, the latest contamination of the toxic metal following a massive recall of tainted cinnamon applesauce pouches last fall.

The products – bags and plastic bottles of ground cinnamon often used in home cooking – have far lower levels of lead than what was detected in the lead-tainted cinnamon used in the apple puree pouches. But the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Wednesday that “prolonged exposure” to the products may be unsafe and could contribute to elevated blood lead levels.

The FDA is advising people to throw away six brands of ground cinnamon under the names La Fiesta, Marcum, MK, Swad, Supreme Tradition and El Chilar. The products are sold at local and national retailers, including Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Patel Brothers and Save A Lot. The FDA has also asked the companies to issue voluntary recalls.

The FDA said consumers should not eat, sell, or serve the ground cinnamon products, and the agency lists specific lots of concern in a table on its website. If you have any of the ground cinnamon products at home, the FDA says, you should throw them away.

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Why lead is being found in cinnamon

It’s not uncommon for low levels of lead to be found in certain spices. While growing plants sometimes may absorb lead that exists naturally in soil, the metal also can be added during processing as a coloring agent or to increase the weight of spices.

The agency said various federal and state health officials conducted a “targeted survey” of ground cinnamon products sold at discount retail stores, following the discovery last fall that cinnamon applesauce treats from WanaBana, Schnucks and Weis contained high levels of lead.

That investigation resulted in the recall of close to 3 million squeezable pouches. The contamination has since been linked to at least 468 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of lead exposure in 44 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the latest investigation, the six ground cinnamon products had lead concentrations ranging from 2.03 to 3.4 parts per million. The FDA says that amount of lead is “significantly lower” than the levels found in the ground cinnamon used in the apple puree pouches, which had between 2,270 parts per million and 5,110 parts per million of lead.

The agency says there are no reports of “illness or adverse events” associated with use of the ground cinnamon products in the recommended recall.

The FDA has recommended companies recall the ground cinnamon products. But the agency says it’s been unable to contact MTCI, a distributor in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

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The risks of lead exposure

Prolonged exposure to lead in the ground cinnamon could contribute to elevated levels of lead in the blood, the FDA says. And there’s no safe level of lead exposure. Young children are particularly at risk of lead poisoning because they can absorb four to five times as much lead as adults, according to the World Health Organization.

According to the FDA, over time, “high levels of exposure to lead” in babies and young children could lead to neurological effects, learning disabilities and lower IQ levels.

In a statement announcing the proposed recalls, the FDA says the agency is testing “colored spices” imported into the United States, and that the sampling “has prevented some cinnamon with elevated lead levels from entering” the country. But the agency says manufacturers and importers are ultimately responsible for any lead contamination in their products.

The agency said it also sent a letter “to all cinnamon manufacturers, processors, distributors, and facility operators in the U.S.” reminding the companies to “prevent contamination” of ground cinnamon products and other food.

The FDA has asked Congress to “require manufacturers to test ingredients or final products marketed for consumption by infants and young children” before the products are sold in the U.S. At the moment, the agency says, federal law does not require manufacturers to conduct such testing.

“Today’s actions serve as a signal to industry that more needs to be done to prevent elevated levels of contaminants from entering our food supply,” Jim Jones, the deputy commissioner for human foods at the FDA, said in the statement. “The levels of lead we found in some ground cinnamon products are too high and we must do better to protect those most vulnerable to the negative health outcomes of exposure to elevated levels of lead.”



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