Dollar Tree Sold Lead-Tainted Applesauce After Recall

By Anna Edney and Jaewon Kang | June 19, 2024

Dollar Tree Inc. continued to sell children’s applesauce tainted with “extremely high” levels of lead long after the company recalled the product due to contamination concerns, US regulators said.

The discount store kept pouches of tainted cinnamon applesauce on store shelves almost two months after the products were pulled from the market, according to a warning letter the Food and Drug Administration posted Tuesday on its website. The FDA held several calls with company executives to discuss their failure to remove and destroy the dangerous items, according to the letter the agency made public after sending it to Dollar Tree earlier this month.

The correspondence between the regulators and retailer shows just how hard it is to get problematic products off of shelves, even after contamination is identified and publicized. The FDA began investigating the apple puree pouches after it learned of an October report from North Carolina officials about four children with signs of acute lead toxicity linked to the items. Lead poisoning can damage the kidneys and nervous system and impact a child’s brain development. The agency said in March it had confirmed 90 cases of adverse events tied to the product.

A month after the recall, some Dollar Tree stores had not even been made aware the product was being pulled from shelves, the FDA said in the letter. The agency didn’t disclose how many stores had been left in the dark. Other stores were aware, but only an alert at the register kept consumers who were about to buy the pouches from taking them home. One complaint involved a customer who let their child eat one of the pouches before paying.

“Despite numerous attempts to bring this serious issue to your attention, your firm continued to offer adulterated Apple Cinnamon Fruit Puree pouches on store shelves, leaving children at risk of exposure to these adulterated products,” the FDA wrote.

The FDA’s June 11 letter says Dollar Tree has 15 days to lay out how it will prevent a repeat of the ineffective recall.

“Failure to adequately address this matter may result in legal action” including product seizures, the FDA wrote.

The lead was detected in pouches from WanaBana and sold at Dollar Tree stores as well as Dollar Tree/Family Dollar combination stores, among other retailers.

Strengthen Compliance

Dollar Tree said Tuesday it is taking steps to enhance and strengthen its compliance and safety programs under its new Chief Executive Officer Rick Dreiling, who took on his role in 2023. It appointed a new chief legal officer and a chief ethics and compliance officer last year.

The company said it continues to cooperate with FDA on the recall matter and that it took “immediate action” after being notified. Dollar Tree is also enhancing efforts to detect violations when it comes to recalls and other compliance issues, a spokesperson said.

Dollar Tree, which operates about 16,400 stores under its namesake banner and Family Dollar chain, has faced a range of issues. Family Dollar’s persistent rat infestation at a warehouse led to an FDA safety alert and a recall of goods at the division’s stores in six states. Under terms of a class action settlement reached last month, shoppers at those stores are entitled to $25 gift cards.

Dollar Tree said this month it’s reviewing options for the struggling Family Dollar business, including a potential sale or spinoff.

Top photo: A Dollar Tree store in Kingston, New York.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.