By Ashley Jones
Every week, Dr. William T. Hark of Richmond Allergy and Asthma Specialists sees patients who have peanut allergies. Such cases are so common, he says, that he can’t even count them all.
“I have heard of cases where peanuts have been in things where people did not realize it,” Hark said. “Some years ago, there was a teenager who died after eating chili and didn’t realize that they used peanut butter as a thickening agent in the chili.”
The presence of even minute amounts of peanuts in food poses a danger to people with peanut allergies. In fact, peanut contamination is one of the most common reasons for products to be recalled in the United States, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Since 2010, there have been 134 documented product recalls involving undeclared peanuts and other peanut-related reasons, the analysis showed. Peanuts were one of the most common reason for products to be recalled – after salmonella, listeria and undeclared milk products.
In the past few years, there has been a spike in the number of peanut-related recalls. Such recalls numbered just 12 in 2012 and 14 the following year. But in 2014, there were 33 product recalls because of peanuts – and there have been 42 through October of this year. (In addition, just last week, Brett Anthony Foods Co. recalled boxes of tofu curry cous-cous because “it may contain undeclared peanut, egg, sulfite.”)
Officials at Food Allergy Research & Education, a nonprofit group based in Washington, say the prevalence of peanut-related recalls is no surprise.
“Because the presence of an undeclared food allergen presents serious potential risks to people with food allergies, foods that contain undeclared allergens are recalled,” said Nancy Gregory, director of communications at FARE.
Gregory said people managing peanut allergies depend on accurate labels to avoid reactions and stay safe. She said one of FARE’s goals is to educate people about the importance of reading food labels.
The organization’s website informs the public about peanut recalls through allergy alerts that come directly from the FDA or manufacturers.
FARE says food allergies are on the rise as the number of children with peanut allergies tripled from 1997 to 2008. About 3 million people report allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.
Mario Jackson, 21, who works at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, says he discovered he was allergic to peanuts as a toddler. When he was 2, he was given peas (part of the peanut family) and had a serious reaction that sent him to the hospital.
Tests showed that Jackson’s peanut allergy was severe. He is allergic not only to the taste of peanuts but even to the smell of them.
It’s not just packaged nuts that pose a problem. Peanuts are used in beverages, too. Some recalls have involved smoothies containing peanuts, the analysis of FDA data found.
The danger presented by peanuts is always an issue for people like Jackson.
“It’s one of those things where I got to live,” he said. “I try not to focus on if there might be a problem with this or there might be a problem with that.”