Family sues applesauce maker, Dollar Tree over claims of lead in fruit pouches

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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A North Carolina family is suing a Florida-based applesauce maker and retail giant Dollar Tree, claiming both companies failed to ensure certain applesauce pouches marketed toward children were safe before putting them on store shelves.

South Carolina-based law firm Motley Rice filed the claim last week in Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit, which includes Miami-Dade County – the corporate headquarters of WanaBana.

The parents claim that both of their young children developed lead poisoning that will require lifetime treatment after consuming the snack. They also allege that WanaBana and Dollar Tree should have known the products were dangerous and that they “unreasonably subjected consumers to an extreme risk of serious, life-long injury.”

As of January 26, 2024, the CDC says it has received 404 reports from 43 states of possible lead poisoning due to the fruit pouches. Nearly 100 of them have been confirmed, 269 are probable, and 37 are considered suspected.

The outbreak was first detected in October. At least one adult has reported high blood lead levels after eating the lead-tainted pouches, but the median age of those sickened is 1, the FDA said.

The recalled pouches of fruit puree at the center of the outbreak were sold under the WanaBana brand at Dollar Tree stores and online, and under the Schnucks and Weis brands in stores.

“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.

CDC data shows reported lead poisoning cases have been reported 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.

Affected pouches have since been recalled. The CDC warns that if you have any still in your home, you should not eat them. Instead, throw them away or return them to where you purchased them. If you or your child has consumed any of the recalled pouches, the CDC recommends calling your healthcare provider about being tested for lead.

AP23317815106221 e1706724910559
FILE – This photo provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 28, 2023, shows a WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouch. On Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, U.S. health officials are warning doctors to be on the lookout for possible cases of lead poisoning in children after at least 22 toddlers in 14 states were sickened by lead linked to tainted pouches of cinnamon apple puree and applesauce. Brands include WanaBana brand apple cinnamon fruit puree and Schnucks and Weis brand cinnamon applesauce pouches. The products were sold in stores and online. (FDA via AP, File)

In a statement to WBTW, a representative for Dollar Tree said the company is “aware of the lawsuit” and “cannot comment on pending litigation.

“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. 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.”

WanaBana did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Nexstar’s WBTW.

The civil suit is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that besides lead, investigators detected “a high level” of the chemical element chromium, which can be toxic, in WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree and in cinnamon collected from the Ecuador factory where the pouches were manufactured.

It’s not clear what type of chromium was detected in the products, FDA investigators said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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