The FDA says people with peanut allergies should avoid all ground cumin for now. How do you?

How to avoid cumin | When Peanuts AttackAfter months of recalls of cumin, spice mixes that contain cumin, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of packaged foods that contain cumin due to the presence of undeclared peanut and tree nut ingredients, on February 18th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finally issued a public advisory statement warning people with peanut allergies “to consider avoiding products that contain ground cumin or cumin powder.”

The advisory goes on to say:

The FDA is continuing to identify companies that received shipments of the ground cumin that contained undeclared peanuts and work with them to remove these products from the market. While this investigation is underway, the FDA wants consumers who are highly allergic or sensitive to peanuts to consider taking precautions with any product [emphasis mine]—not just those that have been recalled—that contains ground cumin. The FDA will continue to update the list of recalled products.

 

So basically: multiple shipments of ground cumin recently imported into the United States (and, I should note, other countries, including Canada and the UK) have been found to contain undeclared peanut protein. The FDA does not know how many U.S. spice companies may have received shipments of peanut-contaminated cumin; the FDA does not know for certain which overseas spice suppliers may be contributing to this problem; the FDA does not know how many food products the contaminated cumin may already have been added to; the FDA does not know which future shipments of ground cumin may also be contaminated; the FDA is working on it.

And in the meantime, if peanuts happen to be a thing that can kill you in small doses, the FDA is gently advising you to “consider” avoiding all ground cumin, all spice mixes that contain ground cumin, all packaged foods that contain ground cumin, and all packaged foods that contain unspecified “spices” that may or may not include ground cumin.

So.

How do you do that?

I’ve been trying to help my peanut allergic son avoid cumin in his diet for a few months now, ever since I first got an inkling of the magnitude of this recall situation, and let me tell you: it’s not easy. Here are some tips:

 

Go beyond reading food labels.

 

This is really important: According to U.S. food labeling law, cumin is not considered one of the top 8 food allergens. That means that FDA and USDA labeling regulations do not require that cumin be labeled under the same “plain language” labeling rules as ingredients derived from milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish or soy. The official guidance the FDA offers food makers on labeling their products for spices is:

How are spices, natural flavors or artificial flavors declared in ingredient lists?

Answer: These may be declared in ingredient lists by using either specific common or usual names or by using the declarations “spices,” “flavor” or “natural flavor,” or “artificial flavor.”

“INGREDIENTS: Apple Slices, Water, Cane Syrup, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Spices, Salt, Natural Flavor and Artificial Flavor”

However, products that are spices or spice blends, flavors or colors must list each ingredient by name.

So if you are looking at any packaged food that is not actually container of spice or spice mix, know that the ingredient label does not have to list cumin even if cumin is an ingredient. Cumin could be listed as “spice,” “spices,” “flavor,” or “natural flavor.” Even a food label that declares some spices by name in the ingredient list may not declare all of the spices by name. For example, a food label for sausage might read, “Pork, salt, black pepper, spices,” or “Chicken, salt, oregano, natural flavors.” Either of those items might contain cumin, even though they do not explicitly say so on the label.

This is perfectly legal. Food companies in the U.S. are just flat out not legally required to specifically list spices or flavorings on ingredient labels, or be consistent about how they do list specific spices and flavorings when they do bother to list them. (Yes, this can and does cause major problems for people with food allergies to spices or flavorings, and I if I listen hard, think I can hear a chorus of non-top-8 food allergy sufferers right now, shouting, “Welcome to our world, people with peanut allergies!”)

This means if you are currently avoiding cumin due to peanut contamination risk, you are going to need to call or email companies that make packaged foods that are likely to contain cumin and ask them whether their products contain cumin. There is no easy way around this. There is no magical list of U.S. products that contain / do not contain cumin. To stay away from cumin for the duration of this recall, you are going to have to do some serious food ingredient research homework.

 

What foods are likely to contain cumin? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.

 

If you don’t cook with cumin often in your own kitchen, you may not be that familiar with  which foods are most likely to contain it. Cumin is considered a warm, earthy, peppery spice, often used to flavor foods that are thought of as “hot” or “spicy.” Here are a few to watch out for:

Spice mixes: BBQ rubs, chili flavoring, curry spice mixes, spicy stir fry mixes, sausage spice mixes, and spices labeled as Mexican, Cajun, Middle Eastern, Indian or Chinese spice mixes often contain cumin.

Spicy sauces: Cumin is a common ingredient in barbecue sauce, curry sauce and many stir fry sauces.

Salsa: Cumin is commonly used in Mexican-style cooking and is sometimes used to flavor salsa.

Meats: Spicy packaged meats such as sausages or pre-seasoned, barbecue-style pork and beef cuts are likely to contain cumin– thousands of pounds of these types of items have already been recalled for undeclared peanut due to the use of contaminated cumin.

Chili: Just as cumin is a common ingredient in chili spice mixes, cumin is an ingredient in many commercial chili recipes. Several chili products have already been involved in this set of recalls.

Seasoned black beans or black bean soup: Cumin is a common seasoning for spicy dishes that contain black beans. Two Goya products that contain black beans have already been recalled for undeclared peanut due to contaminated cumin.

Veggie burgers: Any sort of “spicy black bean” or “southwestern style” veggie burgers are likely to contain cumin; Morningstar Farms has already recalled some lots of black bean veggie burgers for undeclared peanut due to the use of contaminated cumin.

Hummus: Cumin is commonly used to flavor hummus.

Any BBQ flavored anything: Since barbecue rubs, sauces and spice mixes often contain cumin, any food that advertises itself as barbecue-flavored needs to be on your check-twice list.

Any spicy food that advertises Southwestern, Mexican, Cajun, Middle Eastern or Indian flavor: cumin is a signature spice ingredient in all of these regional cuisines.

Foods that are not likely to contain cumin include fresh whole produce, unflavored meats, plain breads and pastas, unflavored rice, unflavored beans etc. For the duration of the recall, if you are craving spicy foods that ordinarily contain cumin, it’s probably best to skip the store-bought pre-packaged options and make your spicy dishes yourself, with simple whole ingredients and spices you have checked on and trust.

 

Don’t forget about restaurants.

 

The FDA alert on peanuts in cumin says nothing specific about avoiding restaurant food– but that’s because the FDA does not actually regulate food safety in restaurants; that’s handled by a patchwork of local health departments and agencies, and the USDA. The USDA website currently redirects people with queries about the cumin recalls to the FDA advisory statement, which is not super helpful if you’re trying to get safety advice about food that is not regulated by the FDA.

But I would say it’s safe to assume that many restaurants may be serving up contaminated cumin at the moment– and they may not even know it. Literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, spices and spice mixes from dozens of different companies have been recalled for undeclared peanut since November 2014, so it would be easy for even a diligent restaurant chef to miss an item on the list. Besides, according to the FDA, the investigation into this problem is still underway, so it is entirely possible that multiple brands of spice products, meats, sauces, and other food items that contain contaminated cumin have yet to be recalled and are still being sold to restaurants as well as consumers.

Since cumin allergies are not common, restaurant servers and chefs may not be accustomed to requests from customers to avoid cumin in dishes, and given the U.S. food labeling law loopholes mentioned above, restaurant staff may honestly not even know which of their dishes contain cumin.

For anyone with a peanut allergy, I would recommend exercising extreme caution eating at restaurants at this time– even when eating out at restaurants with a good reputation for being food allergy friendly.

So is any cumin safe for people with peanut allergies to eat right now? Do we really really have to avoid all of it?

 

So here’s the honest truth: all those foods I listed above that are likely to contain cumin? Like, you know, BBQ sauce, black bean veggie burgers, hummus, burritos, enchiladas, chana masala?

I LOVE THOSE FOODS. I LOVE THEM. I love cumin!

NOT MORE THAN I LOVE MY AMAZING, KIND BRILLIANT HANDSOME GENEROUS CREATIVE FUNNY AND WONDERFUL FIRSTBORN AND ONLY CHILD, of course. So I’d happily give cumin up, just as I’ve given up peanuts (and peanut butter and granola bars and M&Ms and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and most kinds of chocolate actually and Pad Thai). If I had to ban peanut entirely from my home to keep my kid safe? I would do that. NO QUESTION.

But is there a way for me to get safe, peanut-free cumin to make safe versions of cumin-heavy dishes from scratch? Luckily, there do seem to be a few safe options for cumin-lovers who need to avoid peanut. Here are some tips for tracking down peanut-free cumin to use at home:

Whole cumin is safer than ground cumin: So far, all of the peanut-contaminated cumin found in the U.S., UK and Canada has been ground cumin. There is probably a reason for this: ground cumin looks very similar to peanut flour and / or ground peanut shells. So if, say, a cumin supplier suffering from a cumin shortage caused by a particularly bad cumin harvest in India this season did, say, want to, shall we say, stretch cumin shipments by illegally adding in a similarly colored, cheaper filler, adding peanut flour or ground peanut shells to ground cumin would be the way to go. It would be much harder to hide fillers like peanut shells or peanut flour in whole cumin seed, which looks like this:

Whole cumin seed | When Peanuts Attack

 

You can look for recipes that use whole cumin seeds instead of ground cumin, or buy whole cumin and then grind it yourself at home with a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

Some spice brands are safer than others: Spice maker McCormick, well known in food allergy circles already for having a peanut-free processing facility, has issued a public statement to reassure their customers that none of their cumin-containing products, have been involved in any of the recent cumin recalls; McCormick states that they source their cumin as whole seeds, clean it to remove impurities, and then grind it in their own peanut-free facilities.

 

Have any other single-ingredient spices been involved in recalls for undeclared allergens lately?

 

Yes. A couple of brands of paprika were recently recalled in the U.S. for undeclared peanut and in the UK for undeclared almond. I do not know whether this is a separate, isolated incident, or is directly connected to the cumin recalls. The FDA has yet to issue any sort of general warning about paprika as they have about cumin, but more paprika recalls are definitely something to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.

 

What about people who are allergic to tree nuts, but not peanuts? Do they still need to avoid cumin?

 

Honestly I do not know why the FDA failed to include a warning to people with tree nut allergies in this advisory statement. While most of the recent cumin recalls have involved undeclared peanut, it is absolutely the case that a few of the recalls of cumin / products that contain cumin– including recalls for Ortega taco spice and Cool Runnings curry seasonings— also involved undeclared almonds. And as mentioned above, one of the recent paprika recalls was related to undeclared almonds. If you have an allergy to almonds or other tree nuts, then you should absolutely be paying close attention to this spice recall situation, too.

Food safety alert! Peanuts might be in your cumin.

Ground cumin and peanut flour | When Peanuts Attack

Totally easy to tell apart, right? I’m sure no one would ever mix these up.

On October 30th, 2014, the parent company of the brand Ortega in Canada, B.H. Foods, announced a recall, in cooperation with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, of a single lot of Ortega Taco Seasoning Mix in the 35.4 grams size, with a best by date of May 8, 2016.

The recall notice read, “B.H. Kosher Select Food Dist. is recalling Ortega brand Taco Seasoning Mix from the marketplace because it contains peanut and almond which are not declared on the label. People with an allergy to peanut or almond should not consume the recalled product described below.”

Curiously, the next day, October 31st, a different Canadian company, Universal Impex of Canada, also announced a recall of a different spice product– Cool Runnings Jamaican Style Curry Powder. Different company. Different spice mix. But the recall language was strikingly similar: “Universal Impex Corp. is recalling Cool Runnings brand Jamaican Style Curry Powder from the marketplace because it may contain peanut and almond which are not declared on the label. People with an allergy to peanut or almond should not consume the recalled product described below.”

On November 11th, B.H. Foods expanded its recall of Ortega branded products in Canada to include a second lot of Taco Seasoning Mix, with a best by date of June 26, 2016.

On November 14th, B.H. announced through the CFIA that its recall for undeclared peanut and almond ingredients had expanded to include multiple lots of 29 different products under the Ortega and Las Palmas brand including taco seasoning mix, taco sauce, taco dinner kits, commercial taco seasoning spice for restaurants, and more. B&G Foods, the name for Ortega’s parent company in the United States, simultaneously announced a recall through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that included a similarly long list of Ortega and Las Palmas products including taco spice mix, taco kits, enchilada sauce, hot sauce packets and more.

The FDA recall page read, in part, “B&G Foods announced today it is voluntarily recalling certain Ortega Taco Seasoning Mix, Ortega Taco Sauce, Ortega Enchilada Sauce and Ortega Taco Kit products and certain Las Palmas Taco Seasoning Mix and Las Palmas Taco Sauce products after learning that one or more of the spice ingredients purchased from a third party supplier contain peanuts and almonds, allergens that are not declared on the products’ ingredient statements.”

On November 20th and again on November 28th, Universal Impex of Canada expanded their recall to include more curry products.

On December 19th, Reily Foods issued a recall through the U.S. FDA of its Carroll Shelby and Wick Fowler brand chili seasoning kits, after, according to the recall notice, “learning that one or more of the spice ingredients purchased from a third-party supplier contain peanut and almond allergens that are not declared on the products’ ingredient statements.”

And that’s when I started to get suspicious.

I hear about most U.S. recalls for food products that contain undeclared peanut. “Undeclared” allergen recalls happen in the U.S. when a packaged food product is found to to contain a significant amount of a top 8 food allergen (meaning milk, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish, fish, tree nuts or peanuts) that is not listed on the product’s ingredient label.

As the mother of a child with a life-threatening peanut allergy, I’d better make sure I hear about recalls for undeclared peanut. As little as one 1/100th of one peanut can cause allergic symptoms in a person with a severe peanut allergy, so even trace amounts of peanut that make their way into a food product by accident can cause a problem for my son. Savvy food allergy parents know to sign up for recall alerts from the FDA.

I also get a heads-up on peanut-related recalls from food allergy advocacy organizations like FAACT and FARE. And as a member of No Nuts Moms and a number of other online food allergy support groups for parents of children with food allergies, I am connected to a virtual army of thousands of mothers and fathers who are always on the lookout for food safety issues that might affect children with food allergies.

So thanks to the awesome power of the internet, I’d already heard about the Ortega recalls in Canada and the U.S. I’d missed the Universal Impex recall (since it was in Canada). But when the Reily recall popped up across my news feeds in December, I asked some of my food allergy advocate friends, “Do you think this Reily spice recall could be related to that Ortega spice recall from November?”

No one I asked knew.

The FDA had not publicly announced any connection between them.

And try as I might, I could not find any information on the B&G or Reily websites identifying the “third-party supplier” both companies mentioned as the source of their contaminated product.

On December 26th,  Adams Flavors announced a recall of multiple spice products that contained cumin, including single-ingredient cumin packages, chili powder and various spiced meat rubs, saying, “We were notified by one of our third party suppliers that one of the spice ingredients purchased contains peanut proteins, allergens that are not declared on the products’ ingredient statements. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products.”

That was when I decided it was time to start making a list of spice recalls for undeclared peanut or almond that seemed like they might be related.

My list has gotten very, very long.

Dozens of brands, hundreds of products, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of food long. All of which seem to contain cumin or spice mixes that might contain cumin.

Though perfectly safe for people without any food allergies to consume, any one of these products that have been recalled for undeclared peanut and/or almond protein could potentially kill a person with a life-threatening peanut or tree nut allergy.

Keep in mind that during this entire set of recalls, the FDA, the USDA, and the CFIA have, as far as I know, issued no official public statements linking all of these recalls, nor has any of these agencies issued any general public alert (not related to a specific recall) regarding a nationwide food safety issue with cumin or other spices. The FDA, USDA and the CFIA have not publicly named a potential source for this apparently industry-wide problem. And as far as I know there has also been no national media coverage of these recalls that mentions that they may be related.

The national food safety agencies and national media in the U.S. and Canada aren’t warning the public that the presence of undeclared nuts in cumin could be a systemic, continent-wide food safety emergency for people with allergies to peanuts or almonds. So I am. If you know someone who has a peanut or tree nut allergy or has a child with a peanut or tree nut allergy, please share this post with them and let them know that eating any of these recalled foods may put them in danger.

Here is my list. SO FAR. (I will continue to update this post with new potentially related recalls as I find them.)

October 30th: B.H. Foods (AKA Ortega in Canada) recalls their taco spice mix in Canada. (Mentioned above.)

October 31st: Universal Impex of Canada recalls Cool Runnings brand Jamaican style curry powder. (Mentioned above.)

November 10th: B.H. Foods (AKA Ortega in Canada) expands their taco spice recall in Canada. (Mentioned above.)

November 14th: B.H. Foods (AKA Ortega in Canada) and B&G Foods (AKA Ortega in the U.S.) recall taco spice mix and dozens of related products that contain taco spice mix in both the U.S. and Canada. (Mentioned above.)

November 20th: Universal Impex of Canada expands their recall to include more curry products. (Mentioned above.)

November 28th: Universal Impex of Canada expands their recall to include even more curry products. (Mentioned above.)

December 19th: Reily Foods recalls chili seasoning kits through the FDA. (Mentioned above.)

December 26th: Adams Flavors recalls multiple products that contain cumin, including single-ingredient cumin packages, chili powder and various spiced meat rubs. (Mentioned above.)

December 26th: C.F. Sauer recalls barbeque grill seasoning, chili powder and ground cumin with UPC codes and code dates between June 13 2014 and October 21, 2014. They blame a spice supplier by the name of Schiff Foods and state that Schiff sold them cumin “which could have come into contact with peanuts in the manufacturing environment and could have issues for anyone with peanut allergies.” (As far as I can tell, this recall has ONLY been published to the Sauer site so far, and is not on the FDA site.)

December 27th: Garcia Foods in Texas recalls 190,450 pounds of pork products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture; this is publicly linked by both the FDA and USDA to the Adams Flavors recall.

December 29th: Jardine recalls multiple chili spice mix products, stating: “We were notified by one of our third party suppliers that one of the spice ingredients purchased contains peanut proteins, an allergen which is not declared on the products’ ingredient statement.”

December 29th: Hausman Foods in Texas recalls 38,400 pounds of beef and pork products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut; this is publicly linked by the FDA and USDA to the Adams recall.

December 29th: J & B Sausage in Texas recalls 45,904 pounds of chicken and beef products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut; this is publicly linked by the FDA and USDA to the Adams recall.

December 29th: HEB Meat in Texas recalls 83,666 pounds of pork products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut; this is publicly linked by the FDA and USDA to the Adams recall.

December 30th: J & B Sausage expands their recall to include more meat products.

December 31st: Campos Foods of Tennessee recalls 5,300 pounds of chicken products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut; this is publicly linked by the FDA and USDA to the Adams recall.

December 31st: Adams Foods expands their recall for undeclared peanut to include multiple flavors of Private Selection brand panko breadcrumbs.

January 2nd: Zilks Foods recalls all flavors of its 8 oz size packages of hummus. Zilks says the hummus ” may contain undeclared peanuts” because “a spice ingredient from a single supplier used in the affected products was contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 7th: Fresh Food Manufacturing recalls 5,865 pounds of chili products for undeclared peanut. They say they were notified by an unnamed “spice supplier” that “cumin used in the chili may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 7th: HEB issues a new recall (through the FDA this time not the USDA), this time for soup and chowder products. They say, “H-E-B was notified of this issue on January 5, 2015 by the vendor Southern Style Spices that one of the spice blend ingredient components used in the products had tested positive for peanut residue.”

January 8th: The Daniel Weaver Company recalls 7,092 pounds of Yoruk Halal Beef products, saying the company was “notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the sausage may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.” The supplier is not named.

January 9th: Con Yeager Spice Company recalls OVER 100 VARIETIES of cumin and spice mixes that contain cumin, sold nationwide under multiple brand names, including Con Yeager, Shop N Save, Trader Horn, Bi Lo, Burning Asphalt, Country Smokehouse, Ray’s Recipes, and more. Con Yeager says they were “notified by the supplier Morris J. Golombeck Inc. that the ground cumin product had tested positive for traces of peanut protein.”

January 9th: MorningStar Farms recalls Spicy Black Bean veggie burgers and Chipotle Black Bean veggie burgers. MorningStar says, “MorningStar Farms was notified by a third party supplier that one of the spice ingredients used in Spicy Black Bean Burgers and Chipotle Black Bean Burgers may inadvertently contain peanut, an allergen that is not declared on the products’ ingredient statements.”

January 9th: Taj Indian Gourmet recalls three flavors of sauce “due to undeclared peanut allergen in a spice provided by a third-party supplier.”

January 9th: Shirk’s Meats recalls 1,062 pounds of pork sausage products through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when Shirk’s Meats company was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the sausage may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 12th: Spice N’More recalls cumin powder sold under multiple brand names including Casablanca, Spice Class, La Mina, All Island Spice, and more, saying “The recall was initiated after it was discovered that the peanut-containing product was distributed in packaging that did not reveal the presence of peanuts. Subsequent investigation indicates the problem was caused by contamination of the product from its country of origin.”

January 12th: La Flor Products recalls multiple sizes of ground cumin products through the FDA, saying, “The recall was initiated after it was revealed by a supplier that the product we received contained traces of peanut and we distributed this product in packaging that did not reveal or state the presence of peanuts.”

January 12th: Zenobia recalls multiple sizes of ground cumin products through the FDA, saying, “The recall was initiated after our supplier notified us that the Cumin Ground containing peanut protein was shipped to us by them unknowingly.”

January 12th: U.S. Foods recalls 700 pounds of beef products through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered by US Foods when the company was notified by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration alert and became aware that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the beef fajita strips may have been contaminated with peanut residue.”

January 13th: Condies Foods recalls multiple brands and flavors of salsa through the FDA “because they contain the recalled spice cumin which may contain undeclared peanut protein,” stating “The recall was initiated after Condies Foods discovered through the FDA Recalls, Withdrawals and Safety Alerts that a certain lot of cumin used in Condies products had been recalled.”

January 13th:  HEB expands their recall for undeclared peanut to include HEB brand Texas Ranch Casserole and Gumbo.

January 14th: NAC Foods recalls multiple sizes of ground cumin, sold under the brand names Mimi’s Products and Rosa Maria, for undeclared peanut.

January 14th: Publix announces a recall of multiple beef, chicken and pork products through its website, stating, “they may contain peanuts that are not declared on the packaging.” As far as I know, this recall has only been announced through the Publix website, not through the USDA or the FDA.

January 15th: Franklin Farms recalls multiple lots of chili bean veggie burgers for undeclared peanut through the FDA, saying, “Franklin Farms was notified by a third party supplier that one of the spice ingredients used in Chili-Bean Veggiburgers may inadvertently contain peanut, an allergen that is not declared on the products’ ingredient statements.”

January 15th: Publix announces a second recall of multiple ready-to-eat deli products for undeclared peanut. This recall, like the previous one, was announced on Publix’s website and not through the FDA or USDA.

January 15th: Classic Cooking, LLC recalls five varieties of Garden Lites frozen products, through the FDA, saying, “The ingredient cumin provided by a third party vendor was contaminated with peanut allergen.”

January 16th: B&M, Inc. recalls Harris Teeter Blue Cheese Jalapeno Seasoning through the FDA, saying, “B&M, Inc. was notified by one of their suppliers that one lot of Cumin Ground Conventional and some of the seasonings containing this lot had potentially been contaminated with peanut protein.”

January 16th: B&M, Inc. also recalls multiple varieties of ground cumin and chili powder, sold under the brand names Archer Farms (sold at Target) and The Fresh Market, for undeclared peanut.

January 16th: Heywood’s Meat Haus recalls over 900 pounds of pork shoulder products through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when the company’s ingredient supplier informed them that the ground cumin spice, used to produce the Tasso, may have been contaminated with peanut residue.”

January 16th: Buffalo Provision recalls 48,210 pounds of chorizo products, in multiple flavors, through the USDA, stating, “The problem was discovered when Buffalo Provisions was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the products may have been contaminated with peanut allergens..”

January 16th: Kabob’s Acquisition recalls over 800 pounds of beef and chicken products for undeclared peanut through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when the company’s ingredient supplier informed them that the ground cumin spice, used to produce the products, may have been contaminated with peanut residue.”

January 17th: Sentry Food Solutions recalls 14,130 pounds of chicken and beef products for undeclared peanut through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when Sentry Food Solutions was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the products may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 21st: Holiday Foods recalls 1,819 pounds of beef, chicken and pork products for undeclared peanut through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when Holiday Foods was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the products may have been contaminated with peanuts.”

January 23rd: REO Spice & Seasoning recalls its Country Style Chili Seasoning for undeclared peanut through the FDA, stating, “This recall is being conducted with the knowledge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after it was discovered that a single ingredient from a supplier used in the affected product was contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 29th: Aleias Gluten Free Foods recalls two varieties of gluten-free croutons for undeclared peanut through the FDA, saying, “This recall was initiated due to the possibility of undeclared peanut protein in the cumin provided by a third-party supplier.”

January 29th: Spiceco recalls Pride of Szeged Sweet Hungarian Paprika for undeclared peanut through the FDA and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, stating that the product tested positive for peanut protein during tests performed by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. NOTE: This is the first time since this series of cumin-related recalls started that paprika has been recalled for undeclared peanut. I do not know for certain that this is related to the cumin-based recalls, and I also do not know whether this recall means that more paprika recalls might be coming. Keep an eye on this one.

January 30th: Clemens Food group recalls pork rib products through the USDA, stating, “The problem was discovered when Clemens Food Group was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the products may have been contaminated with peanut. Clemens Food Group then informed FSIS of the issue.”

January 30th: Morrison Meat Packers recalls 70,077 pounds of cooked pork products for undeclared peanut through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when the establishment was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the pork products may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 31st: The cumin recalls reach the United Kingdom. The Food Standards Agency of the UK announces a recall of Bart ground cumin for undeclared almond. (Note that though most of the cumin-related recalls have been for undeclared peanut, the earliest recalls of Ortega and Cool Runnings brand spice products were for both undeclared peanut and undeclared almond, so this recall does fit the profile of some of the others in this list and is, I think, potentially related.)

February 2nd: The Spice Mill recalls ground cumin and Cajun Seasoning products for undeclared peanut through the FDA. The recall states, “This recall was initiated after it was discovered that ingredients from a single supplier used in the affected products were contaminated with peanut proteins. This allergen was not declared on the products’ ingredient statement.”

February 9th: Whole Foods recalls a very long list of prepared fresh foods through the FDA, stating, “Whole Foods Market has recalled items prepared with a supplier’s ground cumin spice ingredient that may have contained undeclared peanut. People with an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products.” This list includes multiple flavors of fresh salads, soups, chili, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, wraps, sauces, seasoned meats and many, many other items prepared between January 14th and February 6th. If you shop at Whole Foods you should definitely check this list out.

February 10th: Whole Foods recalls an additional list of prepared products through the USDA, also for undeclared peanut due to contaminated cumin.

February 13th: Goya Foods announces a recall of Kirby brand black beans with creole seasoning and Goya brand black bean soup through the FDA. The recall states, “The voluntary recall was announced after the Company was notified by one of its ingredient suppliers that one lot of ground cumin had potentially been produced with undeclared peanut protein”

February 17th: Spiceco issues a correction to its recall of Pride of Szeged paprika for undeclared peanut.

February 20th: Con Yeager Spice Company revises its cumin-related recall for undeclared peanut to include updated brand names and varieties.

****LAST UPDATED MARCH 1ST****

Cumin image derived from work by Giovanni Dall’Orto. Used with permission via Wikimedia Commons.

How to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project this Halloween

Teal Pumpkin Project | When Peanuts Attack

Two years ago, Becky Basalone, mother of a child with life-threatening food allergies and founder of FACET, a food allergy support group in Tennessee, painted a pumpkin teal, the color for food allergy awareness, and took it along with some allergy-friendly non-food treats to a local trunk-or-treat for Halloween. Two years later, her Teal Pumpkin Project is taking off across America, with backing from the national group, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and nationwide press coverage, including articles on CNN and the Today Show website. As a result, thousands of children who find trick-or-treating much scarier than it ought to be will have something special to look forward to this Halloween: allergy-safe treats they can keep.

Participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project to support children with food allergies is easy. And traditionalists and candy-lovers, take heart: you can participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project and still offer Halloween candy to those kids who can enjoy it. Here’s how you can join in:

Step One: Paint a pumpkin teal. Or print off this free Teal Pumpkin Poster from FARE, and tape it up in your window or on your front door, so that kids with food allergies will know that safe treats are available at your home.

Step Two: Buy some kid-friendly, food-free treats like stickers, glow sticks, glow bracelets, bubble bottles, spinning tops, toy spiders, or bouncy balls. (Avoid toys that contain food, like playdough, which often contains wheat– a top 8 food allergen.)

Step Three: Put your non-food treats in a separate bowl from your Halloween candy, to avoid accidentally contaminating the non-food treats with food from any candy packages that may come open.

Step Four: Offer a choice of candy or non-food treats to the trick-or-treaters who come to your door, and enjoy making this holiday safer and more fun for kids with food allergies!

 

Teal pumpkin | When Peanuts Attack

Poison Ivy Salad, or: why my kid’s food allergy means I need to know what you are serving at your party, even if my kid will not be eating any of your food

Poison Ivy Salad, anyone? | When Peanuts Attack
Oh heavens, do I get tired of explaining to people why I would very much like to know in advance and in detail what food will be served at an event my food-allergic child will be attending, even if my child won’t be eating any of the food that will be served there, because he plans on bringing his own allergy-safe food.

People who do not regularly deal with managing life-threatening food allergies often have a very hard time understanding my concerns about my son just being in the same room while a food he is allergic to might be served.

This is why:

1.) People with peanut allergies have been shown in studies to experience allergic symptoms to just traces of peanut residue, as in, MILLIGRAMS. As in, an amount that won’t necessarily be tasted or seen.

2.) THEREFORE, no matter how much care I take in selecting allergy-safe food for my own child to bring, if my kid’s peanut-free food touches your kid’s peanutty food, or a utensil or a cooking surface or an eating surface that was touched by your kid’s peanutty food and not cleaned, my kid’s food is no longer definitely peanut-free, and can no longer be considered safe for him to eat.

3.) Also: My kid breaks out in hives from touching peanut residue. No really. He does. This is real. This actually happens. This is an actual thing. I HAVE PICTURES. And he is not the only kid who faces this issue. In fact, one of the more commonly cited studies on contact reactions showed that about 1/3 of kids with peanut allergies will react with some form of itching, rash and/or hives after minor skin contact with peanuts. In this study, 30 kids with a confirmed peanut allergy were exposed to their allergen through skin contact. Researchers placed a pea-sized amount of peanut butter placed on each child’s skin for one minute, and then wiped it off. After this very limited exposure to peanuts, ten of the 30 study participants experienced some form of allergic reaction at the site of contact: three developed skin redness at the site, five developed itching, and two developed hives.

So yes, I need to know if the other children at your event will be eating peanut butter cookies, or Snickers, or German chocolate cake, even though my son is bringing his own food. YES I ACTUALLY DO. Because when other children will be running around your event space with their hands and faces covered in a substance that could put my kid in the hospital if he eats even a trace of it, and could cause him to break out in hives if he even just touches it, my kid and I will need to plan accordingly.

Think of it this way: If I were intending to serve poison ivy salad at my party, even if you weren’t planning to eat it yourself, or serve it to your own kids, wouldn’t you want to know?

The poison ivy image, by Esculapio, is in the public domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons. 

Playing Ball

Tonight, my son will risk death to go to a baseball game.

Baseball | When Peanuts Attack

For just three games every season, the St. Louis Cardinals rope off a single section of seats at Busch Stadium, and label that section as “peanut controlled.” We will be there tonight, in the third row.

“Peanut controlled” means that peanut vendors are not allowed to sell peanuts inside the special roped-off section, and any guests who buy tickets in that particular section will be warned that they will not be allowed to purchase peanuts elsewhere in the stadium and bring them inside. Stadium staff hose the section off and wipe the seats down before the game. Of course, vendors all along the path outside the stadium entrance will still be roasting peanuts. Concessions stands throughout the stadium will still be selling peanuts. Thousands of patrons seated outside of this roped-off section will still be eating peanuts. In the hallways, on the stairways, on the elevators. Touching handrails and tables and and seats and the faucet handles bathrooms. Dropping empty peanut shells and pieces of peanuts on the stadium floor, walking through them, tracking them everywhere.

We will need to be very careful.

I spent a couple of hours this morning packing, then checking and double-checking our gear. Things we will be carrying into the stadium tonight include:

Three water bottles
Three dinner-sized packages of nonperishable food
Three stadium seat covers
Two packets of Clorox cleaning wipes
Three packets of Wet Wipes hand wipes
20 dry napkins
10 plastic baggies
An insulated first-aid case
Ice packs
Three doses of Children’s Claritin
Three doses of Children’s Benadryl
A tube of topical Benadryl cream
Alcohol wipes
Plastic gloves
Bandages
Four epinephrine auto-injectors
Binoculars
My son’s baseball glove

***

A few days ago, when we were at the grocery store, my son started to break out in hives. Two appeared on his hands, which flushed red. One popped up on his face.

 

Contact reaction to peanuts | When Peanuts Attack

 

 

I took him to the bathroom immediately, told him to go inside, told him to wash his hands and face. While he was in there, I thought: Where had he picked up the peanut residue this time? We had skipped the bulk aisle! We had wiped the cart handle. But in the condiments aisle, when I’d picked up a jar of Sunbutter sunflower seed spread there had been a slick ring of oil on the bottom, and then, on the shelf nearby I’d spied, pushed to the back, a couple of containers of house-made fresh ground peanut butter in cheap deli plastic tubs. The kind that leak.

That must have been it. I’d put the Sunbutter back, scrubbed my hands afterward with the wet wipes I always keep in the main pocket of my purse.

Not well enough, apparently.

Maybe. Or maybe someone rummaging through that big display of peanuts on the end cap had thrown dust in the air. Or maybe one of those the kids running around the store with nutty ice cream samples had touched a box or a shelf or our cart, and then my son touched it. Or maybe. Or maybe.

When my son came out of the bathroom, I wiped his face again myself. “Stop it, Mom,” he said. “I’m too clean.”

Too clean. Hah. Ten-year-olds.

His reactions from skin contact alone have never been serious. Yet. But I worry so much about him thoughtlessly putting his hands in his mouth, or rubbing his eyes. He is only ten.

***

In St. Louis, baseball is more than game. It’s the local religion. Opening day is an unofficial holiday; crowds fill the streets; people hang flags; the local fountains run Cardinal red; kids and teachers both call in sick to school and get away with it. All the kids on our street own baseball caps with the red and white “StL” Cardinals logo. My son is no exception. His favorite Cardinals hat, dingy and smudged from regular wear, was once bright blue. After being worn and washed about a hundred times, it’s gone a faded denim grey.

(We’ll have to wash it again tonight, of course, after the game. As well as scrub the soles of his shoes, and ours, before we come inside the house.)

My son watched every game of the World Series in 2013. On TV, of course. His favorite player that year was Carlos Beltran.

During one of the two peanut-controlled section games had been able to make it to see in person that season, Carlos Beltran had hit a spectacular home run in the third inning. “He did it for you,” I told my son. “He’s bringing his best to the plate today. He knows you can’t make it to just any game.”

The kid scoffed at me, of course; at nine he was already no fool.

But when he heard Beltran left to play for the Yankees, he still punched a wall.

***

At that same game last August, the one where Carlos Beltran hit the home run, a four-year-old boy in our section introduced himself to my son during the seventh inning stretch by saying, “Hi there. My name is Blake. If I ever eat peanuts, I’ll die.”

***

The makers of the EpiPen recommend that people with life-threatening allergies carry two epinephrine autoinjectors and keep them within immediate reach at all times. During a life-threatening allergic reaction, one EpiPen will buy the allergic person approximately 15 minutes of time to get to an emergency room for medical treatment. The reason to carry two is that sometimes one injector will malfunction, and also sometimes the ambulance takes more than 15 minutes to arrive, and the allergic person will have to be injected twice.

The reason I am bringing four autoinjectors to the baseball game instead of two, even though there is an excellent pediatric hospital less than ten minutes away from the stadium, is that during my son’s first anaphylactic reaction to peanuts– before he had been diagnosed, before he had a prescription for epinephrine– when we drove our child to the closest ER, the hospital staff made us wait 20 minutes in the waiting room while my son gasped for air and began to turn blue. Then the pediatric emergency doctor in the ER gave him a double dose of Children’s Benadryl and sent us home.

When we saw an allergist a week later, he said, “The ER staff should have admitted your child immediately, they should have given your child an injection of epinephrine immediately, and they should have kept him for observation for at least four hours. You are lucky that he survived.”

So now when we go to high-risk places, I carry four injectors instead of two. If the ER fails to give my child appropriate medication again, I intend to do it myself.

***

I imagine that the specific section chosen to be designated the peanut-controlled section at Busch Stadium was chosen for a few good reasons. Only one other section adjoins it directly. This minimizes exposure to peanut shell dust from seats nearby. It’s near an elevator that is also near an entrance gate, allowing visitors to bypass a long section of the gauntlet of peanut vending stations that line the stadium halls. It’s situated in one of the lower-priced areas of the stadium, presumably to make the ticket prices more accessible for families who already shell out a lot of extra cash every month for medicine, doctors’ visits and specialty foods.

But the truth is the seats are not great. The section is entirely unshaded, so during daytime games, the sun beats directly down on it, ridiculously bright and hot. The seats are high up, waaaay high up, not in the nosebleed bleachers at the very top, but just one section under, on the far end of right field. From those seats, the players look smaller than toy action figures. It’s basically impossible to see the ball, unless you’re very quick with the binoculars.

The chances of a home run ball ever reaching that section are slim to nil.

My son brings his baseball glove every time anyway. Ready for the catch.

***

Living is risking your life. Parents let children take risks all the time. Cars are dangerous, but still we drive our children to the park. Pools are dangerous, but we let our children swim. People shoot people for no reason, at schools or at the gas station or at the mall, but we let our children go to public places anyway.

My son just has a few more dangers to watch out for, is all. About 200 people die a year in the U.S. from food allergies. But many more — there are 15 million Americans with food allergies — live. Every episode of allergic anaphylaxis should be treated as potentially life-threatening. But good allergen avoidance strategies and proper use of life-saving medications work to save lives every day. Reading labels and researching food companies works. Limiting restaurant meals to trusted locations works. Wet wipes work. Epinephrine works. All of those things come together to keep children with food allergies safe. 99% of the time. This is what I tell myself.

And yet.

Natalie Giorgi died last year after accidentally eating a single bite of a Rice Krispy treat that was flavored with peanut butter. One bite, that she spit out. Her father was a doctor. He injected her with epinephrine three times.

He could not save her.

(He punched, barehanded, through a glass door to get his daughter one of those doses, because someone had lost a medicine cabinet key. He could not save her.)

Natalie Giorgi had red hair and brown eyes and freckles.

Just like my son.

***

When you purchase tickets for the peanut-controlled section at the Cardinals website, your receipt comes with a disclaimer. It reads:

As you know, the sale of peanuts at our facility, and all Major League Baseball facilities, is one of the historic traditions of the game. In making your decision to attend the Cardinals game, you should know and consider that because Busch Stadium is a public facility, it is impossible for us to guarantee that any portion of the stadium is completely peanut-free, including section [X], the section where your seats will be located.

 

Similarly, every time we get the reminder from our local food allergy support group that now is the time to purchase tickets for the upcoming peanut controlled game, I ask my son, “Are you sure you want to do this? Remember, you could have a reaction. We can be careful, but we can’t control other people. There will be peanuts everywhere.”

Every time he says the same thing. “I’m going. I can only go to three games out of the whole year. I AM GOING TO THIS ONE.”

So, he is.

 

Kid at baseball game | When Peanuts Attack
Image of baseball at top by Tage Olsin. Photos of peanut-allergic, baseball-loving child by Jaelithe Judy.

Peanut allergy myth: Peanut allergies were invented by overprotective parents

You're Nuts | When Peanuts AttackMyth: Back when I was a kid, no one I knew was allergic to peanuts. So peanut allergies must be a silly fake illness made up by today’s overprotective parents.

Reality: A peanut allergy is a real and serious medical condition. Peanut allergies ARE on the rise among children, but scientists do not know why.

It’s absolutely true that a few decades ago, peanut allergy diagnoses were not as common as they are today. However, peanut allergies are not some sort of psychosomatic illness foisted on children by their crazy helicopter parents.

According to multiple studies published by respected groups like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, food allergies in general and peanut allergies in particular have increased sharply over the past few decades.

One survey study by allergists at Mount Sinai Hospital, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that while 0.4% of children surveyed were reported to have a peanut allergy in 1997, 1.4% percent of children reported a peanut allergy in 2008 — indicating that the number of children with peanut allergies tripled in just one decade.

Though there are many interesting theories on what may be behind this increase in dangerous food allergies among children, there is as yet no scientific consensus on a primary cause.

But it is undeniable that food allergies, including peanut allergies, truly exist. Food allergies are widely recognized as a serious medical condition by the medical community. 

The CDC says, “Food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern [ . . . ]  Allergic reactions can be life threatening and have far-reaching effects on children and their families.” The Mayo Clinic says, “Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.”

And in most cases, is a fairly simple matter for a doctor to determine whether or not a person genuinely has a serious food allergy. Doctors can test for food allergies in a clinical setting using a blood test, a skin prick test, or a food challenge to prove that a person has a true food allergy. And most doctors will not prescribe medication or a treatment plan for a person with a food allergy until they have performed such testing.

So when a parent says, “An allergist diagnosed my child with a peanut allergy,” that means that the child has been tested by a medical professional and shown to have a real and serious medical issue.

Managing a life-threatening peanut allergy is difficult and stressful. The parent of a child with a peanut allergy must monitor every single piece of food his or her child eats, take the child to all sorts of extra doctors’ appointments, and constantly carry around expensive life-saving medication. It is not a thing an even marginally sane parent would make up just to get attention. Trust me on this one. If I could give my child back the life he had before his peanut allergy diagnosis, I would do so in a heartbeat.