Pea protein trend sparks allergy warning

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStock
Image: iStock

Related tags: Pea protein, Allergen, Allergies

The increased use of concentrated pea protein in plant-based products could be a factor in rising reports of allergy to peas, warn campaigners.

A host of firms have launched new pea protein ingredients of late as manufacturers seek to capitalise on the greater numbers of consumers seeking to reduce their meat intake. Though rare, people can have an allergic reaction to legumes, including peas.

Lynne Regent, Chief Executive Officer of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, told FoodNavigator: “Although peas are not one of the 14 major allergens there is some evidence emerging that the increased use of concentrated pea protein in products could be a factor in increased reports of allergy to peas. It is therefore extremely important to clearly label products, as required by current food labelling laws, especially where the product is one that the customer might not normally expect to contain peas or pea proteins. It is also vital that all staff at food establishments are aware of the severity of allergies and are given the proper training in relation to food allergy safety.”

The legume family includes peanuts, soya, lupin, green beans, green peas and fenugreek. Pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and other dried beans are also part of the legume family. Research has also discovered that children who had various allergy symptoms upon eating cooked peas, but were able to eat raw peas​.

Information on pea protein can be found on the Anaphylaxis Campaign legumes factsheet:

https://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/knowledgebase/allergy-legumes-including-pulses/

For more information on protecting allergic consumers, a guide for the food service industry is here: : https://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/corporate/corporate-protecting-allergic-customers/

While pea or legumes are not in the 14 major allergen list (except peanuts which are) and do not have to be highlighted in the ingredients list of pre-packed food, they do have to be included in the list if they are an intended ingredient. The only exception to this is if the pea protein forms part of a compound ingredient which makes up less than 2% of the overall product (see page 22 of the FSA FIR 2014 summary guidelines​).

According to recognised bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration and UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, food allergies are caused by a wide variety of foods. The most common are peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, wheat, and tree nuts and products thereof. These commonly allergenic foods account for over 90% of all moderate to severe allergic reactions to foods, although an extensive literature search has revealed more than 160 foods associated with sporadic allergic reaction.

‘Pea protein is potentially a very big problem for allergy sufferers’

The parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died aged 15 in 2016 after unknowingly eating sesame seeds in a Pret A Manger baguette, have since have established the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation​ to help and cure people with allergies. Tanya Ednan-Laperouse told FoodNavigator that pea protein is potentially a very big problem for allergy sufferers.

She estimates 95% of those with peanut allergies will be ‘okay’ with peas, but the rest - one in 20 - could face a potentially life-threatening reaction to pea protein. Meanwhile, because it is a highly concentrated ingredient, it can also potentially lead to a more serious allergic reaction than someone would have from eating regular peas.

“It has had virtually no coverage in the UK media and many people aren’t even aware that it’s being added to our food,”​ she said. “Unfortunately, because so little is said about pea protein, many people may not realise that it comes under the legume umbrella, and therefore could be dangerous to those who suffer from peanut allergies.

"Furthermore, even if they are aware of the link, they may not realise it is added to meat, chicken and so-called allergy-friendly snacks (and grain-free pet food) - and therefore may consume it without knowing or not thinking they need to check the label for these products​."

Another big worry is that while pea protein is not labelled as an allergen (as it is not one of the 14 listed allergens), its 'cross reactivity' presents a potential danger to peanut allergy sufferers. "Any plant-based ingredients that are added to foods and have cross reactivity with any of the 14 allergens are a potential threat to allergy sufferers.”

She is also concerned that the use of pea protein is only set to rise with the increased popularity of veganism and plant-based products. According to a report by Allied Market Research, the global pea protein market was worth £26.2 million ($32 million) in 2017. This number is expected to increase dramatically to £144 million ($176 million) by 2025.

Meanwhile, the UK leads the way in launches of pea protein products in Europe. European Vegetable Association’s (Euvepro) Plant Protein Review found that the US and UK accounted for 20% and 11%, respectively, of global food and beverage launches containing pea protein in the year to July 2019. According to Mintel, 11.9% of meat substitutes launched in the UK in the past year contained pea protein. It is also being used in sports nutrition, meal replacement products and vegan ice-cream.

“Manufacturers see the potential in it because it is cheap - and could be grown in the UK - but many consumers are not aware of it and may not be looking out for it as an ingredient on labelling​,” Ednan-Laperouse stressed.

Plant-based innovation is bringing fresh challenges 

Amirah Ashouri, a director at Cubo Innovation, which advises the food industry about NPD, said new innovations in the plant-based space were bringing fresh challenges to the sector concerning allergies.

“Although there is a huge amount of exciting innovation happening, it does mean consumer diets are shifting, with many people swapping food groups or completely cutting them out altogether. With a weird and wonderful mix of ingredients being used, it’s vital that consumers understand what they’re eating and any implications it has on their health.

“Milder issues such as digestive discomfort may arise (due to a sudden increase in fibre) which lead consumers to believe that they’re allergic to products when they are not. There is also the real risk of anaphylactic shock for some people caused by hidden legumes which they may not realise are in plant-based meat alternatives. It’s vital that food service understands the risks and that not all plant based products are the same. You cannot swap from one supplier to the next and assume the same allergen risks.

“Pea protein is a great ingredient to use and one which the majority of people will be able to tolerate. Very much like Beyond Meat have, it’s important to sign post on pack: 'people with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy'.”

Labelling tips for manufacturers

A spokesperson from Cargill, which recently launched a new range of pea-based patty and ground products for the foodservice and retail sectors, said: Since we are offering the plant-based products as a private label solution, it will be our retail and food service partners who choose how to label their brands/products and not Cargill. We recommend that the product indicate that peas are legumes and that people with peanut allergies should be cautious when introducing pea into their diet due to the possibility of a pea allergy.”

Ingredients supplier Roquette, which recently announced the launch of L85M, which will be sold under its NUTRALYS® pea protein range, told FoodNavigator: “Some of our customers clearly highlight the botanical origin on their packaging. Due to some rare reported allergic reactions to peas (and their derived products), we strongly suggest to our customers (Food producers) to list the botanical origin of their pea derived products in their ingredients statements." 

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