The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recalling hundreds of products after traces of peanut were discovered in cumin spice. The recall started last December but an increasing number of products that contain cumin and therefore risk of peanut are being discovered so additional products are being added to the growing list.
For people allergic to peanuts, even a trace amount can prove deadly. So any cumin spices and products that contain cumin are being removed from shelves. This large of a recall is extremely rare, in the United States the number one reason for food recalls are peanuts and other undeclared allergens.
Anyone with a known allergy to peanuts must be cautious, especially the elderly and children. The problem is that people who have a known allergy take great care in selecting food products. However, even in reading labels products could contain undeclared allergens.
According to Dr. Michael Pistiner, a podiatrist allergist in Boston, for these people, knowing foods could still contain undeclared allergens is unsettling. He adds he considers the recalls as being low risk since the amount of peanut is small but for sake of comfort, risk is high.
Approximately 15 million people in the US have food allergies, to include 1 in every 13 children, this according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Of allergies, just eight foods to include peanuts, eggs, milk, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat account for over 90%.
New laws were created in 2006 whereby those eight food allergens have to be listed on food packages if even a trace amount is present. However, issues pertaining to cross-contamination are not as clear. For instance, if peanuts or other food allergens are processed in the same facility or with the same equipment, that information does not have to be provided to the public.
As far as the number of people who have reactions to food allergens that get into food accidentally remains unknown since tracking statistics is difficult. For instance, some pathogens to include salmonella can be detected in stool and then traced back directly to strains on a farm or in food manufacturing facilities.
From January 2012 through December 2014, the FDA has received 428 reports of reactions specific to undeclared allergens. Of those, three people died. When questioned about detailed information, the FDA would not release anything more. They also refused to comment on how the current cumin contamination happened or provide the name of the company involved.
Pertaining to the cumin recall, the FDA said at minimum, seven people have reported adverse reactions. So far, hundreds of products have been removed from shelves to include black beans, meats, spice mixes, marinades, and more. Most often, the cumin spice is used in Indian and Tex-Mex cooking.