Recently, the grocery chain Winn-Dixie issued a recall of its store-brand canned Italian green beans after a man discovered a whole, in-shell peanut in a Winn-Dixie green bean can. According to a Winn-Dixie spokesperson, the manufacturer that processes green beans for Winn-Dixie also packages boiled peanuts on the same equipment. It’s easy to imagine how such a mistake could happen in a large food packaging factory. A minor technical mix-up — a failure to fully wash equipment between runs, an accidental container switch — could easily have led to the foods being mixed together. In a factory where peanuts and green beans are canned on the same equipment, it would not take a major act of negligence for the two to wind up in the same can.
But for many of the more than 12 million Americans with food allergies, such a simple mistake could prove deadly.
Peanuts in particular are one of the most dangerous food allergens. In some peanut allergic individuals, even trace amounts of peanuts can cause a severe type of allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can cause vomiting, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and an irregular heartbeat. If not treated immediately with an injection of epinephrine, anaphylaxis can be fatal. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, anaphylaxis due to food allergies causes 150-200 deaths in the U.S. each year, and more than half of those deaths are caused by an allergic reaction to peanuts.
And, in an age when most of the food consumers eat is factory-produced on a large industrial scale, packaging mistakes involving common food allergens are unfortunately commonplace. Major, well-known food manufacturers frequently accidentally mix the wrong ingredient into a batch, mislabel one product as another, allow products to become cross-contaminated by failing to clean their production lines, or simply fail to provide a full ingredient list.
Winn-Dixie wasn’t the only big brand to issue a food-allergen-related recall in December 2011. That same month, See’s Candies recalled 3,600 boxes of its Almond Clusters candy after discovering some had been contaminated with peanuts. Eillien’s Candies recalled a batch of yogurt-covered raisins because yogurt-covered peanuts had been mixed in.
In October 2011, General Mills warned that some of its Fiber One Bars may contain a potentially unpleasant peanut butter surprise — the company had mislabeled an entire batch of Chocolate Peanut Butter flavored bars as plain Chocolate. That same month, the grocery chain Kroger recalled its store brand of Moose Tracks ice cream after failing to list peanuts as an ingredient on the package.
Don’t think choosing organic brands will keep you safe from unexpected allergen contamination. Just this past April, Organic Food Bar, a maker of organic snack bars that advertises that its products are made in a peanut-free facility, recalled several lots of its Chocolatey Chocolate Chip RAW Organic Food Bar upon discovering that one of the bar’s raw ingredients had been contaminated with peanuts at their supplier’s facility, before it entered their factory.
And people with a peanut allergy are not the only ones who ought to pay close attention to allergen-based food recalls: in November, Rice-a-Roni issued a recall due to undeclared dairy ingredients; in December, Rising Moon Organics recalled packages of ravioli for undeclared soy.
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