Miami Herald (Sunday)

Applesauce maker sued in Miami-Dade court after kids showed elevated blood lead levels

- BY DAVID J. NEAL dneal@miamiheral­ The Charlotte Observer contribute­d to this report. David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

The parents of the first two children found to have elevated lead levels in their blood after eating cinnamon applesauce have filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade against the company that made the product.

The suit by Nicole Peterson and Thomas Duong against WanaBana, producers and distributo­rs of WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Fruit Purée, starts the legal phase of the elevated lead levels first noticed in October. Investigat­ors say the applesauce ferried the lead from Ecuador into the blood of hundreds of U.S. consumers.

“As of January 26, the CDC has received reports of 98 confirmed cases, 269 probable cases, and 37 suspected cases for a total of 404 cases from 43 different states through their reporting structure,” the FDA said this week.

Peterson and Duong live in Hickory, North Carolina. WanaBana made the applesauce in Ecuador.

WanaBana is two companies — WanaBana USA, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and WanaBana LLC, officially based in accountant Barry Perl’s Miami Shores home. WanaBana’s state registrati­on lists Francisco Pena Cordovez and Santiago Pena Cordovez as authorized members who can be reached by mail sent care of Perl, the registered agent, at a Miami Shores post office box.

An email from the Miami Herald to WanaBana and a phone message left at Perl’s business weren’t answered. Also not commenting and named as a defendant is Dollar Tree, where the North Carolina couple say they bought the applesauce.

“This is a nightmare no parent should ever face. Knowing that our children will have to live with the effects of lead poisoning for the rest of their lives is heart-wrenching. This serves as a wake-up call about the dangers that can lurk in everyday food products,” the parents said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The family was among the first to report elevated lead levels, and their experience helped lead to an investigat­ion by North Carolina public health officials — and later nationwide investigat­ions.

Their complaint is one of about a dozen suits nationally that have made such

claims so far, according to Nicholas Williams, a Charleston lawyer representi­ng the Hickory family. In October, a Wake Forest family filed a similar lawsuit after high lead levels were found in the blood of their 1-year-old child.


According to the lawsuit filed by the Motley Rice law firm’s Lance Oliver, the North Carolina couple began buying the applesauce at Dollar Tree in February 2023. The applesauce advertised as “kosher” and “USDA Organic” became a regular snack for their 2-year-old girl and 11-month-old boy.

In June, when the kids had checkups, the boy measured 10.2 micrograms per deciliter and his older sister measured 12.4. Both count as elevated lead levels.

The CDC says anything above 3.5 qualifies as above average.

When the children were tested again in August, the boy’s blood lead reference value had soared from 10.2 to 20.8 and his now-3year-old sister’s levels had almost doubled also, from 12.4 to 24.1.

“Protecting children from exposure to lead is particular­ly important because they are more susceptibl­e to lead toxicity,” the FDA said. But “most children have no obvious immediate symptoms.

“Short term exposure to lead could result in headache; abdominal pain/ colic; vomiting; and anemia. Longer term exposure could result in irritabili­ty;

lethargy; fatigue; muscle aches or muscle prickling/ burning; constipati­on; difficulty concentrat­ing/ muscular weakness; tremor; and weight loss.”

Both parents’ lead levels were normal. Eventually, they realized “that the only food consumed by the children that was not consumed by (the parents) were the WanaBana fruit purée products.”

Once the parents stopped giving the kids the WanaBana, the lawsuit says, their daughter’s levels dropped from 24.1 to 12.9 and their son’s levels dropped from 20.8 to 13.5.

North Carolina state health officials took the WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Fruit Purée in for testing and found 1.9 milligrams per kilogram, almost 20 times the acceptable limit of 0.1 mg/kg. WanaBana’s Apple Banana Purée didn’t have cinnamon and the North Carolina State Laboratory of Health measured it at 0.05 mg/kg.

That’s when the North Carolina people reached out to the FDA.


As WanaBana recalled the Apple Cinnamon Fruit Purée as well as apple cinnamon applesauce made to be sold as store brands in the Weis and Schnucks supermarke­t chains, the FDA went to the Austrofood­s facility in Ecuador. Austrofood­s made the applesauce for WanaBana using cinnamon from Negasmart.

The FDA reported that samples of cinnamon tested “have undergone analysis and results show extremely high levels of lead contaminat­ion, 5110 parts per million (ppm) and

2270 ppm. For context, the internatio­nal standardse­tting body, Codex Alimentari­us Commission (Codex) is considerin­g adopting a maximum level of 2.5 ppm for lead in bark spices, including cinnamon, in 2024.”

Also, the FDA said a sample of Apple Cinnamon Fruit Purée picked up at Dollar Tree had a lead concentrat­ion of 2.18 ppm, “more than 200 times greater than the action level of 0.01 ppm that the FDA has proposed in draft guidance for fruit purees and similar products intended for babies and young children.”

In Austrofood­s postrecall statement posted to WanaBana’s site, Austrofood­s said the companies “are aware of reporting by of a statement by an FDA official that the lead contaminat­ion might have been an intentiona­l act. Austrofood­s has initiated legal action in Ecuador against Negasmart for supplying the contaminat­ed cinnamon. Austrofood­s and WanaBana USA are not aware whether the alleged contaminat­ion by Negasmart was intentiona­l or accidental.”

A month after the first recall in October, the FDA said it was still getting reports that Dollar Tree was selling the recalled applesauce.

Dollar Tree said it locked checkout registers from the product (a common move by retailers when a product is recalled) and told stores to take it off the shelves.

“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,” a Dollar Tree spokesman said in an email. “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.”

 ?? FDA ?? WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Fruit Puree is at the core of a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade by the parents of two children with elevated levels of lead in their blood.
FDA WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Fruit Puree is at the core of a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade by the parents of two children with elevated levels of lead in their blood.
 ?? FDA ?? WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Fruit Purée sold in three-packs also were recalled.
FDA WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Fruit Purée sold in three-packs also were recalled.

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