Undeclared food allergens leading reason for recalls

Egg_broken-on-white_blogUndeclared food allergens accounted for more than half of food recalls in the second quarter of this year, according to a new report.

About 60 percent of total food recalls were related to undeclared allergens, up from 34 percent in the first quarter. Allergens accounted for 65 percent for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-initiated recalls and 60 percent from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-initiated recalls (USDA and FDA has jurisdiction over different commodities).  Undeclared allergens have been either the first or second leading cause of food recalls for the past six quarters, according to Stericycle ExpertRECALL, a company that oversees product recalls.

FDA documented 292 food recalls in the second quarter – an 8 percent drop from the first quarter. Foodborne illness-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, accounted for one in four recalls.

USDA reported 17 recalls of poultry, processed eggs or meat with 11 of those attributed to undeclared allergens. It is important to note that the number of total recalls has dropped 30 percent from the first quarter, making the second quarter the lowest number of recalls for the past six quarters. Pathogen-related recalls also dropped significantly, from nine last quarter to three this quarter – a more than 60 percent decrease.

Due to the number of allergen-related recalls, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has put an increased emphasis on food allergens and now not only directs inspectors to review product formulations and labels related to Allergen Control Plans but also has increased audit frequency in regard to allergens, according to the ExpertRECALL report.

“In past years, FSIS directed [inspection program personnel] IPP to focus verification activities on food safety rather than other consumer protection requirements not directly related to food safety,” an FSIS notice reads. “However, proper labeling of a product, especially correctly declaring all allergenic proteins, is directly related to food safety. Specifically, the consumption of meat, poultry, or egg products containing undeclared “big 8” allergens, may result in adverse health reactions. Because of the increase in recalls associated with the failure of establishments to properly address labeling, FSIS is now explicitly directing IPP to conduct new labeling verification activities.”

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004 requires manufacturers to declare major allergens on food labels, which include peanuts, eggs, milk, tree nuts, wheat, fish, soy and shellfish (in fact, although any food can be allergenic, 90 percent of allergic reactions are caused by one of these eight foods). Failure to do so can result in a recall as undeclared allergens can have serious adverse health effects on food-allergic individuals. For those with food allergies, strict avoidance of that food is the only sure way to prevent allergic reactions.

When an allergic person ingests allergenic material, it triggers an immune response. Symptoms of food allergic reactions can range from mild, such as hives, to severe including throat swelling, difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock.

It is estimated that roughly 15 million people in the U.S. suffer from food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Globally, that number rises to 220 to 250 million, the World Allergy Organization notes. However, these numbers appear to be rising.

For more on food allergies from Neogen’s blog, click here.

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