Dollar Tree left lead-tainted applesauce on shelves for weeks after recall, FDA says

The Food and Drug Administration released a letter it sent to Dollar Tree warning that the company failed to remove applesauce packets contaminated with lead from store shelves in a timely manner.

The letter dated June 11 stated that local public health officials found the recalled pouches over eight weeks after the recall was announced on October 29.

"The Agency is concerned with Dollar Tree’s capability to quickly remove unsafe products from its store shelves as necessary and as required during a public health threat, such as a recall," a constituent update disclosing the letter said.

The FDA gave the discount giant 15 days to respond to the letter with information of how the company plans to avoid having recalled products on its shelves.

In a Tuesday statement Dollar Tree said the company will, "continue to take steps to significantly enhance and strengthen our compliance and quality programs and capabilities." The release said that the company has started multiple teams to execute recalls and has implemented point of sale checks to prevent recalled items from being sold.

"In October 2023, Dollar Tree took immediate action and began executing a recall of WanaBana's Apple Cinnamon Fruit Puree Pouch upon being notified of the issue with the product. We continue to cooperate with FDA on this matter," Dollar Tree said in a statement to USA TODAY.

Lead found in recalled applesauce 200 times higher than proposed FDA limit

FDA investigators found that the lead contained in the recalled applesauce packets, sold under the WanaBana, Schnucks and Weiss brands, had 2.18 parts per million of lead. The finding was 200 times more than what the FDA proposed as an action level in draft guidance for baby food.

The FDA found that the source of the lead contamination was the cinnamon used in the recalled pouches as tests of non-recalled products without cinnamon did not find lead in them.

The Administration also found that cinnamon from manufacturer Austrofoods contained chromium a sign that the company used lead chromate. The FDA said the use of the compound was, "likely an act of economically motivated adulteration."

As of March 22, the CDC reported 136 confirmed cases and 345 probable cases of lead poisoning from the applesauce packets across 44 states.

A handout photo of applesauce packets recalled due to lead contamination.
A handout photo of applesauce packets recalled due to lead contamination.

What are the signs and symptoms of lead toxicity?

Lead is toxic to humans and can affect people of all ages and health statuses. Exposure to lead is often difficult to identify, according to the FDA, and most children have no obvious immediate symptoms.

Exposure to lead can only be diagnosed through clinical testing, and signs and symptoms of lead toxicity varies, based on exposure.

Here are some symptoms of short-term lead exposure:

  • Headache

  • Abdominal pain/Colic

  • Vomiting

  • Anemia

Long-term exposure to lead could have additional symptoms, including:

  • Irritability

  • Lethargy

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle aches or muscle prickling/burning

  • Occasional abdominal discomfort

  • Constipation

  • Difficulty concentrating/Muscular exhaustibility

  • Headache

  • Tremor

  • Weight loss

Lead exposure can seriously harm a child's health and lead to long-term health effects, the CDC says, including:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system

  • Slowed growth and development

  • Learning and behavior problems

  • Hearing and speech problems

This can lead to negative effects on learning and focus, the CDC notes.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dollar Tree failed to remove lead-tainted applesauce pouches, FDA says