WanaBana recall update: FDA sends warning letter to Dollar Tree over lead-contaminated cinnamon apple fruit puree

Health officials in multiple states are still finding the recalled, lead-contaminated WanaBana products on Dollar Tree shelves.
Health officials in multiple states are still finding the recalled, lead-contaminated WanaBana products on Dollar Tree shelves. (FDA via AP)

🚨What just happened?

Dollar Tree failed to pull lead and chromium-contaminated WanaBana cinnamon apple fruit puree pouches from its shelves in a timely manner, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

The FDA sent a warning letter to the discount store chain, which has more than 16,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada, following Dollar Tree’s voluntary recall of WanaBana’s products in November 2023 because unsafe levels of lead were discovered in its products. However, public health officials “across many states” continued to see WanaBana cinnamon apple fruit puree pouches on store shelves months following, the FDA said.

📖 The background

A national recall of the WanaBana purees was announced in November after they were linked to dozens of cases of lead poisoning. Testing revealed that the cinnamon used in the apple cinnamon flavor was the source of the heavy metal contamination. At least 90 cases of illness linked to the pouches across 32 states were reported, according to the FDA’s latest data. Two other brands of cinnamon applesauce products, Schnucks and Weis, also tested positive for unsafe levels of lead, as well as chromium. Further FDA investigation revealed that six brands of ground cinnamon were contaminated by lead.

WanaBana complied with the FDA’s request for it to issue a voluntary recall of its cinnamon apple fruit puree pouches. The agency also asked retailers — including Amazon, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and combination Family Dollar/Dollar Tree stores — that carried WanaBana products to voluntarily pull the products from their shelves. But, according to the FDA’s latest updates, Dollar Tree, Inc. (which owns both Family Dollar and Dollar Tree stores), “failed to adequately remove recalled WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches from its store shelves,” the agency said. "On December 18, 20 and 21, 2023, FDA again held calls with Dollar Tree to relay our concerns that your stores continued to have adulterated products on store shelves," the letter reads as the last update.

The FDA states that to date, Dollar Tree has not provided the agency "with any information demonstrating that long-term, sustainable corrections have been implemented" throughout their organization to prevent adulterated food from making it to shelves.

Dollar Tree has since hired a new management team and continues to work to step up its compliance and safety programs, the company told Yahoo Life in a statement. "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," a Dollar Tree spokesperson said. "We continue to cooperate with FDA on this matter."

According to an FDA spokesperson, they are "not aware of any recalled product remaining on Dollar Tree shelves at this time." The FDA and state regulatory partners completed recall audit checks at retail locations and worked with Dollar Tree to remove product. "The FDA is concerned with Dollar Tree’s future capability to quickly remove unsafe products from its store shelves as necessary and as required during a public health threat, such as a recall, which is what led to the warning letter for Dollar Tree in this instance," the official said.

📌 The stakes

Lead poisoning can have dire and lifelong effects, especially for young children and babies, the target market for the fruit puree pouches. Children’s developing bodies can absorb five times as much lead as an adult’s and repeated exposure to high levels of lead can lead to neurocognitive issues, including low IQ and difficulty learning and paying attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although some children will develop stomach pain, headaches, vomiting and anemia shortly after exposure to lead, most have no immediate symptoms, the FDA warns. Longer-term symptoms include irritability, lethargy, fatigue, aching, constipation, difficulty concentrating, weakness, weight loss and tremors, but the most surefire way to check for lead poisoning is through a blood test, which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends be administered to kids between ages 12 months and 24 months.