Don’t use these six cinnamon products, FDA warns after concerning lead tests

Estimated read time 3 min read

Don’t use these six cinnamon products, FDA warns after concerning lead tests

Six different ground cinnamon products sold at retailers including Save A Lot, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar contain elevated levels of lead and should be recalled and thrown away immediately, the US Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday.

The brands are La Fiesta, Marcum, MK, Swad, Supreme Tradition, and El Chilar, and the products are sold in plastic spice bottles or in bags at various retailers. The FDA has contacted the manufacturers to urge them to issue voluntary recalls, though it has not been able to reach one of the firms, MTCI, which distributes the MK-branded cinnamon.

Products identified by the FDA as containing elevated lead levels.
Enlarge / Products identified by the FDA as containing elevated lead levels.

The announcement comes amid a nationwide outbreak of lead poisoning in young children linked to cinnamon applesauce pouches contaminated with lead and chromium. In that case, it’s believed that a spice grinder in Ecuador intentionally added extreme levels of lead chromate to cinnamon imported from Sri Lanka, likely to improve its weight and/or appearance. Food manufacturer Austrofoods then added the heavily contaminated cinnamon, without any testing, to cinnamon applesauce pouches marketed to toddlers and young children across the US. In the latest update, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 468 cases of lead poisoning that have been linked to the cinnamon applesauce pouches. The cases span 44 states and are mostly in very young children.

The alarming contamination spurred the FDA to conduct more sampling of cinnamon products, focusing an initial survey on products from discount retail stores, the agency said. The FDA makes note that the elevated lead levels found in the six products announced this week are significantly lower than what was seen in the cinnamon added to the applesauce pouches. The six products contained lead at levels ranging from 2.03 to 3.4 parts per million (ppm), while samples of the cinnamon added to the applesauce had levels ranging from 2,270 ppm to 5,110 ppm in the cinnamon.

The FDA has previously reported that 2.5 ppm is the limit being considered for bark spices, which includes cinnamon, by the international standard-setting body, Codex Alimentarius Commission.

So the six newly identified products are right around or just over that potential threshold and do not pose the same level of risk as the applesauce pouches. But the FDA warned that the elevated levels in the ground cinnamon could cause elevated blood lead levels after prolonged use, which the agency defined as months to years. This, in turn, could contribute to harmful health effects, particularly in children who absorb lead more readily than adults and are still developing. Lead is a potent neurotoxic metal that can damage the brain and nervous system, which for young children can lead to learning, behavior, and developmental problems.

“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 FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods, said in a statement. “Food growers, manufacturers, importers, and retailers share a responsibility for ensuring the safety of the foods that reach store shelves. 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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