News Room

Cinnamon Shakedown

Food safety investigations detect lead contamination in Cinnamon and cinnamon-flavored applesauce

By Brian S. Kabateck

Cinnamon is one of the most popular, versatile, and widely available spices around the world. In addition to being aromatic and delicious, Cinnamon is good for you! It is anti-inflammatory and anti-infectious, good for gut health and female hormone balance, freshens breath and lowers cholesterol levels, and is a natural food preservative. The uses, benefits, and appeal of Cinnamon seem endless.

Unfortunately, the FDA recently announced that tests have detected elevated levels of lead in numerous Cinnamon brands sold by popular retailers and commonly used for home cooking—including two brands by California distributors.

This new advisory follows closely on the heels of a major recall last fall of cinnamon-flavored applesauce pouches made especially for young children. Federal and state authorities found “extremely high” lead levels in three brands: Schnucks, WanaBana, and Weis. The CDC has reported just shy of 500 confirmed, suspected, and probable cases of lead exposure spanning 44 states, all linked to applesauce pouches relied on by parents as a healthy snack.

How did lead get into Cinnamon?

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of trees in the Cinnamomum family. The gold standard, Ceylon Cinnamon, is derived from Cinnamomum verum in Sri Lanka, Cinnamomum cassia from Southern China, and Cinnamomum burmannii from Indonesia.

The trees may pick up lead from the soil or the air, particularly if environmental contaminants are nearby, such as industry and busy roadways. Volcanic ash can also contribute. Experts say the lengthy growing period to produce mature Cinnamomum trees—about 10 years—allows ample time for lead uptake from the environment. The drying process, which produces the recognizable curl of cinnamon sticks, can concentrate the level of heavy metals in the finished product.

Laura Shumow, executive director of the American Spice Trade Association, told the Washington Post, “The industry is actively researching ways to prevent or remove lead from cinnamon bark, but the studies will take years to complete.”

The danger of lead exposure—how much is too much?

Prolonged exposure to high levels of lead—particularly in childhood, while the brain is developing—has been linked to neurological disorders, lower IQ, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, stunted growth, and delayed puberty.

In the case of the applesauce pouches, U.S. health authorities found “up to 5,110 parts per million [ppm] of lead in samples of cinnamon collected from the manufacturing facility in Ecuador,” WaPo reported. The legal limit in the EU is 2 ppm. There is currently no federal legal limit for lead in spices in the U.S., but New York State law, for example, caps it at 1 ppm.  

In California, according to, “Lead is on the Proposition 65 list because it can cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Exposure to lead during pregnancy can affect brain development and cause learning and behavior problems for the child. Exposure to lead can harm the reproductive systems of men and women.”

Prop 65 also states that lead and lead compounds can cause cancer, and exposure may increase cancer risk.

In the current case of lead contamination detected in packaged ground cinnamon, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigators found approximately 2 to 3 ppm of lead. According to the Washington Post, in the opinion of Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, a professor and the director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, that amount of lead suggests “an environmental, non-intentional contamination.”

More disturbing are the findings in the case of the applesauce pouches, which federal investigators have said was “likely an act of economically motivated adulteration.”

Why would a manufacturer add lead to spices? Even trace amounts of lead chromate can increase the weight or bulk-up the product, and lead-based pigments have been used to add color to spices in the past. Historically, there have been lead-related adulterations in spices other than Cinnamon, including cumin, paprika, and turmeric.

Contaminated cinnamon brands

The FDA warns consumers to stop using and discard the following brands of Cinnamon immediately. Do not cook with, eat, or serve:

  • La Fiesta brand – by La Fiesta Food Products, La Miranda, CA – sold at La Superior SuperMercados
  • MK brand – by MTCI, Santa Fe Springs, CA – sold at SF supermarket
  • Marcum brand – by Moran Foods, LLC Saint Ann, MO
  • Swad brand – by Raja Foods LLC Skokie, IL – Sold at Patel Brothers
  • Supreme Tradition brand – by Greenbriar International, Inc., Chesapeake, VA – sold at Dollar Tree and Family Dollar
  • El Chilar brand – by El Chilar Apopka, FL – sold at La Joya Morelense in Baltimore, MD


For more information on specific lots, dates, and codes, visit the FDA website.

The effects of lead exposure may not be immediately evident, but lead toxicity is a very serious health concern, especially for children. If you believe that you or someone you love may have been exposed to elevated lead levels through contaminated Cinnamon—out of the package or through applesauce pouches—the experienced product liability attorneys at Kabatek LLC are here to help.