The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled different products found to have undeclared peanut protein in cumin which presents a possible health risk to consumers with peanut allergy.
Nac Foods Co., Zenobia Company, La Flor Products Co., Spice N’ More and the Con Yeager Spice company issued recalls last month due to undeclared peanuts in cumin powder and ground cumin.
However, the issue was highlighted when Adams Flavours recalled several of its spiced products after the cumin they purchased was found to contain undeclared peanut proteins in December.
Prompted by this issue, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has tested batches of ground cumin and cumin seeds sold in the UK for peanut and almond.
Testing validation importance
Barbara Hirst, RSSL consultant, food safety and quality, told FoodQualityNews that testing validation is critical to understand the scale of the problem and ensure all results have been verified.
“Spices can be a difficult matrix to test because they are highly coloured and polyphenols can interfere with the test so you need to do the right kind of validation to get the right result.
“Testing validation is having confidence that when you test the spice for the peanut protein, if it is present the test does detect it and there are no interferences.
“Think about how it might be contaminated and take the right number of samples in the right places, it depends on the grower and producers, it is a conversation between them and the lab to get a good sample program to ensure detection.”
None of the products recalled in the US and Canada were distributed to the UK but as a precaution the FSA began testing cumin sold in the country through a sampling programme.
Hirst said RSSL can detect almond protein using ELISA techniques or peanut or almond using a DNA based method (PCR).
“The peanut shell might not have the protein present which is why PCR is needed as the DNA test would work.
“People are allergic to the protein so allergen testing is important because it is a food safety risk.”
FSA sampling programme
FSA has since issued an alert about a batch of ground cumin sold by The Barts Ingredients Company found to contain traces of almond protein not listed on the label.
No cases of allergic reactions linked to the 35g product with best before dates of October and December 2017 have been reported.
The undeclared almond protein was identified during the sampling programme.
Greg Corbishley, head of technical at the company, said it was a precautionary measure.
“There are a number of technical concerns regarding the potential for detection methods finding false positive readings for almond pressure in cumin,” he said.
“We are investigating these with the Food Standards Agency and with the reporting laboratories and with our suppliers whilst withdrawing our ground cumin as a safety measure.
“We have every confidence in the integrity of our growers and processors in Turkey and their controls.”
The sampling programme involved testing batches of ground cumin and cumin seeds bought from supermarkets, grocery shops, and wholesalers across the UK and from consignments inspected at ports. All samples were tested for undeclared peanut and almond protein.
Undeclared almond protein has been identified only in one Barts product. No tests have detected peanut proteins at levels that would require allergen labelling.
Jason Feeney, CEO at the FSA, said it had been checking for problems with cumin products in the UK and, as a precaution, is taking action to protect consumers.
“Currently there is no evidence to suggest that the undeclared almond protein found in this product is linked to the problems with cumin found in the US and Canada. Investigations are ongoing.”