Applesauce Maker, Retailer Sued Over High Levels of Lead in Fruit Pouches

Kos Temenes
By Kos Temenes
February 1, 2024US News
Applesauce Maker, Retailer Sued Over High Levels of Lead in Fruit Pouches
The 3 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)

A Florida-based applesauce maker and a major retailer are facing a lawsuit over allegations that the companies failed to uphold safety regulations in marketing some of their products aimed at children.

The lawsuit was initiated by a North Carolina family against applesauce maker WanaBana and retail giant Dollar Tree. The claim was filed last week by South Carolina-based law firm Motley Rice, and is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

The case will proceed in Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit, which includes Miami-Dade County, where WanaBana is headquartered.

The family are alleging that their young children will need life-long medical treatment after developing lead poisoning from consuming fruit pouches made by the company. The lawsuit further states that both companies should have been aware of the danger the snack represented, and should have taken adequate steps to remove the product from store shelves.

“This lawsuit underscores the critical importance of corporate responsibility in ensuring product safety, especially when the product’s end consumers are vulnerable children. Our clients’ children now face lifelong health challenges and medical needs,” attorney Nicholas Williams said in a news release, according to The Hill.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that more than 400 reports from over 40 states had surfaced as of late January that indicated possible lead poisoning from ingesting the product. Out of these, around 100 have been confirmed as investigations continue.

The affected cases reportedly occurred in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia, according to CDC data.

The products were sold under the WanaBana brand at Dollar Tree stores and online, as well as the Schnucks and Weis brands in other stores. The products in question have since been recalled.

First detected in October, the case mostly affected babies and toddlers, although at least one adult was adversely affected by high levels of lead in their blood. The CDC has issued a warning that consumers should ensure that any remaining pouches are removed from their homes by either disposing of them carefully or by returning them to the store where they were purchased. If the product has already been consumed, the CDC recommends seeing a healthcare provider as well as testing for lead levels in the blood.

A representative for Dollar Tree said in a statement to WBTW that the company is aware of the legal proceedings against them but is unable to comment on an ongoing case.

“Know that we take the situation very seriously and are committed to the safety and integrity of the products we sell,” the statement continued.

“In response to WanaBana’s Apple Cinnamon Fruit Puree pouch voluntary recall announcement, Dollar Tree locked its registers to prevent sales and instructed stores to remove the product from the shelves and destroy the affected packages according to FDA guidelines,” the company wrote.

“We enforced these directives, including through audits by field teams, utilization of a third party to confirm the effectiveness of the product removal and notification signage in our stores. We removed the product from shelves, destroyed it according to the recall guidance and have kept the register lock in place. We were also in regular contact with the FDA. If customers have this recalled product, they are advised to stop using it immediately and return it to the place of purchase for a full refund,” the statement said.

The company did not offer any further information.

Chromium Levels

WanaBana came under further scrutiny earlier this month, however, when FDA investigators detected high levels of chromium—a heavy metal and, thus, a potentially hazardous chemical element—in WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree.

Further investigation revealed chromium contamination in cinnamon collected from the company’s manufacturing plant in Ecuador, although it’s currently unclear what type of chromium was present, according to the investigators.

A naturally occurring element, chromium can be found in trace amounts in a variety of foods. While one type—chromium III, or trivalent chromium—is considered an essential nutrient for human metabolism, another type, chromium VI, or hexavalent chromium, is a known carcinogen.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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