Undeclared Food Allergen Recalls on the Rise

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When you have severe food allergies, your life depends on the correct information being included in an ingredients label. Luckily, more companies than ever are quick to issue undeclared allergen recalls when they suspect one of their products contains an allergen that’s not listed in the ingredients.

So far in 2015, there have been more than 150 undeclared food allergen recalls — that’s more than for Salmonella and Listeria combined, although we often hear more about the latter in the news because they can affect everyone.

Blogger Lily Roth is allergic to milk, eggs, tree nuts, potatoes and tomatoes, and has had 20 anaphylactic reactions in her life. Whenever she sees a recall notice, she says her heart “stops a little bit” as she thinks “What if someone ate some of that and they died?”

“You ultimately realize so many things are out of your control with food allergies. You’re putting your life in the hands of a stranger when you eat anything packaged,” says Roth.

food-allergen-recallsOriginal photo credit

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires that the top eight allergens — eggs, crustacean shellfish, fish, milk, peanuts, soy, tree nuts and wheat — be listed on the labels under their common names. If a product contains casein or whey, for example, the label must have the word “milk” either in the ingredients or the “contains” label.

But companies make mistakes, and labels aren’t always perfect.

There have been close to 900 undeclared food allergen recalls since 2009, and 179 of them were for candy and/or chocolate with undeclared nuts, dairy or eggs. It’s been a difficult fall for families with food allergies, after the deaths of three food-allergic teens who mistakenly ingested their allergens.

How are companies discovering their errors in order to issue the undeclared allergen recall?

  • 44 percent were found during audits or inspections of the facilities
  • 27% were found when someone complained but didn’t have a reaction
  • 12% were found because a consumer suffered and reported a reaction

We report on allergen-related recalls over on our Facebook page as well as a dedicated page on Scratch or Sniff, but here are a few other spots to check regularly if you have a family member with food allergies:

So why has there been such a spike in undeclared allergen recalls this year? Well, there’s a single spicy reason, and its name is cumin. There was a rush of recalls after cumin was discovered to contain traces of peanuts and almonds. Because many ingredient labels don’t list their spices individually, cumin could be in potentially any product that contained “spices” so the recalls kept rolling in.

Anyone who loves a person with food allergies will tell you “better be safe than sorry,” and food safety lawyer Bill Marler says the increase in recalls is likely a sign of better vigilance.

“There’s a larger population of people that are vulnerable,” Marler told Medpage Today. “And I think we’re seeing businesses realizing that and double-checking their supply chain.”

H/T MedPage Today

Heather Laura Clarke, a contributing writer at Scratch or Sniff, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her high-school sweetheart husband, seven-year-old son, and five-year-old daughter. She writes for newspapers and magazines across Canada and the U.S., and blogs about her family life at Heather's Handmade Life. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram.

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