Lead-contaminated ground cinnamon recalled by Family Dollar and other retailers. Here's what to know — and what to do next.

Several brands of ground cinnamon that the FDA found were contaminated by lead have now been pulled from shelves by retailers included Family Dollar and Dollar General. (Getty Images)
Several brands of ground cinnamon that the FDA found were contaminated by lead have now been pulled from shelves by retailers included Family Dollar and Dollar General. (Getty Images)

Several U.S. discount stores, including Family Dollar, have recalled some packages of ground cinnamon after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that six brands were contaminated by lead last week. It comes after lead was found in WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches, resulting in at least 468 cases of possible lead exposure and a recall in October, and prompting the latest broader investigation into cinnamon. FDA officials also noted that the levels found in these cinnamon products is considerably lower than those found in an earlier ongoing investigation into WanaBana and other apple cinnamon fruit purees.

Worried you might have purchased one of the products being flagged? Here's what to know — and what to do.

🛒 Which stores have recalled cinnamon?

Following the FDA's finding and request that the contaminated products be pulled from shelves, recalls of four brands of ground cinnamon have been issued by:

  • Dollar Tree

  • Family Dollar

  • Save A Lot

  • Patel Brothers

  • La Joya Marelense (in Baltimore, Maryland)

The FDA has not been able to reach the sixth brand, MTCI, which makes lead-contaminated cinnamon sold at SF Supermarket. So far, the recalls are limited to a few brands of cinnamon sold at these six retailers, but, "we want to keep our children’s lead exposure as low as possible, so it’s a good idea to check the FDA’s recall list and get rid of the cinnamon products if they are in the home," Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, medical director of the Poison control Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Yahoo.

🫙What cinnamon products contain lead?

Elevated levels of lead were found in ground cinnamon products from six brands, including:

  • La Fiesta

  • Marcum

  • MK

  • Swad

  • Supreme Tradition

  • El Chilar

Are the levels of lead in the affected cinnamon products dangerous?

Yes and no. The levels of lead found in the six cinnamon products were elevated from what regulators expect, but lower than those that have been found in other products. Lead was found at concentrations between 2.04 and 3.4 parts per million (ppm). For comparison, the levels found in applesauces and fruit purees from WanaBana, Schnucks and Weis were between 2,270 and 5,110 ppm, according to the FDA.

But no level of lead is considered "safe" by the World Health Organization (WHO), which notes that "young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health impacts, particularly on the development of the brain and nervous system." Lead exposures are cumulative, so if a child eats the contaminated cinnamon, and comes into contact with other sources of lead, that could lead to health problems.

The goal, for public health officials and pediatricians is "eliminating all background sources of lead that a child might be exposed to," Dr. Alan Woolf, a pediatrician and medical toxicologist at Boston Children's Hospital, tells Yahoo Life. "So the finding of lead contaminating of a product that mostly targets children, in terms of who is consuming it, is particularly disappointing." (While the FDA alert notes that ground cinnamon products in question "may not be a food targeted to young children," it adds that "cinnamon is used in many foods young children consume.")

🤒 What are the signs of lead exposure?

Often there aren't any outward signs that a child or adult has been exposed to lead, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). If their blood levels of lead become high enough to cause lead poisoning, they may develop abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation and irritability.

The youngest children, however — ages 3 and under — are the most susceptible, and are also the hardest in which to identify these symptoms. According to Woolf, "2- and 3-year-olds who have nondetectable levels of lead can also be fussy and irritable and not have good appetites or [be] sleeping well."

The only surefire way to know if a child has been exposed to lead is through blood testing. Some states require children to undergo blood testing for lead at ages 1 and 2. Assessing lead exposure risks — by asking parents about potential sources of lead, like living in an older home — is typical during checkups through age 6, Woolf says.

🩺 What are the risks of lead exposure?

Exposure to lead can increase adults' risks of high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and kidney damage, according to the WHO. During pregnancy, high exposure levels can trigger miscarriages and lead to stillbirths, premature births and low birth weights.

Young children — especially those age 3 and under — are particularly at risk because their bodies absorb more lead, the WHO says. Even low levels of exposure can raise risks of behavioral problems, while high levels of exposure can lead to brain and nervous system damage, including developmental delays, hearing and speech problems and lower IQs.

✅ What to do

If you've purchased any of these brands of ground cinnamon, throw them out immediately, the FDA says. Cinnamon and other spices have a long shelf-life, so check the labels of any cinnamon you may have bought some time ago to be sure it isn't one of these contaminated brands. Although the FDA has requested a recall, these products could still be on store shelves, so do not buy them.

If you have consumed of these brands of cinnamon, or suspect you or your children were exposed to lead, see your health care provider for testing, as most people don't have symptoms of exposure.

This article was originally published on Feb. 1, 2023 and has been updated.