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Applesauce pouches may have been contaminated with lead on purpose: FDA official

(The Hill) – Recalled applesauce pouches that left many children sick with lead poisoning could have been tainted on purpose, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Jim Jones, the FDA deputy commissioner for Human Foods, said the investigation is still ongoing, but signs point to an intentional act to poison the puree.

“We’re still in the midst of our investigation,” Jones said in an interview with Politico. “But so far, all of the signals we’re getting lead to an intentional act on the part of someone in the supply chain and we’re trying to sort of figure that out.”

Weis, WanaBana and Schnucks are three of the brands found to have contaminated pouches. All have ties to a manufacturing facility in Ecuador, which is now under inspection by the FDA.

Jones told Politico he thinks the facility didn’t believe the contaminated applesauce would have ended up in countries with a robust regulatory process.

“My instinct is they didn’t think this product was going to end up in a country with a robust regulatory process,” Jones said. “They thought it was going to end up in places that did not have the ability to detect something like this.”

Apple Sauce pouches
Three recalled applesauce products may have been deliberately tainted with lead, according to an FDA official. (FDA via AP)

The FDA has continued to look into a number of theories as to why and by whom the applesauce was contaminated, but the agency currently believes it was economically motivated. Essentially, ingredients could have been altered to make products appear higher in value in order to sell them for a higher price.

Jones told Politico that despite the United States’ existing food safety laws, intentional contamination is always going to be hard to “absolutely stop.”

An FDA spokesman also said that the agency has “limited authority over foreign ingredient suppliers that do not directly ship product to the U.S. because their food undergoes further manufacturing/processing prior to export.”

Elevated levels of lead in children was first noticed by state and local officials in standard blood screenings, which are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to help reduce lead exposure in children under the age of 6.

“We’re going to chase that data and find whoever was responsible and hold them accountable,” Jones said.

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