Peanut allergy alert

People with peanut allergies should consider avoiding anything containing ground cumin in light of a recent rash of food recalls involving undeclared ingredients, government inspectors warn.

Since late fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued multiple recalls involving dozens of food companies and hundreds of products, related to traces of substances not identified on ingredient labels. The bulk of the current recalls involve undeclared peanut proteins in ground cumin and spice blends. An earlier recall in 2014 included undeclared peanuts and ground almonds.

Only specific brands and forms of the spices are included in the recalls, but because peanut and nut allergies can be potentially deadly, affected consumers are urged to use extreme caution, the USDA and FDA warn. Federal investigators are continuing to track mislabeled ingredients back to the supplier level, in efforts to identify additional products that may need recalls. The products are considered safe for people who don’t have peanut or nut allergies.

So far, more than 250 tons of preseasoned beef, chicken and pork have been recalled, along with more than 500 different products containing spice blends that have undeclared peanut proteins, according to the recall reports. The notices, which include specific brands and lot numbers, cover such items as bread crumbs, black beans, soups, meal kits and prepared salads.

You may have seen notices about the recalls in some grocery stores, including Whole Foods, which this month pulled more than 100 products off shelves because of potential cross-contamination with undeclared peanut proteins. The recalls cover mom & pop companies as well as name brands such as Goya and Ortega.

Media attention has prompted some food companies — including spice giant McCormick & Co. Inc. — to issue press releases noting that their products are not involved.

The FDA cautioned that some packaged foods may not actually list cumin as an ingredient, but rather simply say “spices” or “flavors” because of “trade secrets.” The agency also cautioned people with peanut allergy to be careful when dining out, because sometimes it can be difficult to get full ingredient listings. Cumin is often found in Tex-Mex or Indian foods, and sometimes it is present in chili powder and curry blends.

The FDA said it has had at least eight “adverse event” reports from consumers stemming from the cumin recall — part of 428 such reports related to undeclared allergens between January 2012 and December 2014.

Fifteen million Americans have food allergies, including one in 13 children, according to Food Allergy Research & Education Inc. (FARE). The organization reports that eight foods account for more than 90 percent of food allergies: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

Since 2006, manufacturers of foods containing any of those allergens are required to note that on the ingredients list. Many products also will note if peanuts or other allergens are processed in the same facility or on the same equipment, though this is not required by law.

The FDA advises consumers with severe peanut allergies and their caregivers to review the list of recalled products at FoodSafety.gov. Also:

  • Know the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, which include hives, shortness of breath, and/or swelling of the lips, tongue or throat.
  • If symptoms occur, seek immediate medical care or advice.

– Mickey H. Gramig


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