The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one of the federal agencies charged with keeping the US food supply safe. One way they do so is by acting as a clearing house for product recalls.
Recalls are generally initiated by the manufacturer or distributor of the food. Only in some cases does the FDA mandate a recall.
Recalls may be due to any number of reasons, including contamination with microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites; the presence of foreign objects like metal or plastic; or a failure to list a major allergen contained in the food.
For the food allergy community, undeclared allergens can be deadly, as was illustrated by the recent death of Órla Baxendale — a 25-year-old dancer with a severe peanut allergy — due to undeclared peanuts in a cookie purchased at Stew Leonard’s.
Current regulations require manufacturers to label foods containing any of the Top 9 allergens — peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, crustacean shellfish, and sesame — as well as sulfates, providing the sulfate concentration is higher than 10 parts-per-million.
Manufacturers that process allergens in their facilities are the most likely to recall products due to undeclared allergens, often due to mislabeling or cross-contact. Cross-contact occurs when an allergen is inadvertently introduced into a product due to incomplete sanitation of the equipment between runs, a mixup of ingredients in the warehouse, or any number of other procedural breakdowns.
Precautionary allergen labeling (PAL) like “May contain milk” or “Manufactured in a facility that also processes tree nuts” can provide a clue that there is the potential for allergen cross-contact, but contrary to popular belief, such warnings are not mandated nor recognized by the FDA. As they are entirely voluntary, some manufacturers include them, many major brands don’t, and others will warn for one allergen and not another.
To gain an understanding of the frequency of recalls due to undeclared allergens, we looked at the database of recalls maintained by the FDA and pulled only those that were issued to since the beginning of this year to date. Here’s what we found:
|Wegmans — Harissa hummus topped with harissa
|Hearty Acquisitions Inc. — Tomato Basil with Rice
|Byrne Dairy — Mighty Fine Chocolate Ice cream
|Golden Owl — Dried mango
|UTZ — 2.75 oz. Wavy Original Potato Chips
|Al Amir Fresh Foods — Hummus Dip & Tzatziki
|Lian Sheng — Dried Tangerine Plum
|Lian Sheng — Dried Plum
|Hans Kissel — Mexican Style Quinoa Salad
|Whitley’s Peanut Factory — Deluxe Nut Mix
|Vandevi — Asafoetida Yellow Powder
|Big Island Candies — Brownie Assortment
|Wegmans — Outrageous Oat Cookies
|Fat Choy Kee — Dried Longan
|Benny T’s — Benny T’s Vesta Dry Hot Sauces
|Publix Deli — Publix Deli Carolina-Style Mustard
|ToYou — Snack Bars in a variety of flavors
|Tasty Snacks — Dried Plums
In the space of 34 days, 18 products were recalled, averaging one every other day. Those recalls were due to undeclared peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, sesame (7 of the Top 9), and sulfates.
In many of those cases, consumers with food allergies would have been warned of the potential for allergen cross-contact if PAL warnings were mandated on the packaging.
The food allergy community desperately needs labeling regulations to be updated so that consumers are informed how products are manufactured with regard to allergens. To that end, please consider signing our petition on Change.org and sharing it with friends, family, and co-workers.