NY Times (Apr 3, 2001): F.D.A. Finds Faulty Listings of Possible Food Allergens

Posted on: Mon, 04/02/2001 - 9:36pm
The Goose's picture
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p[url="http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/03/business/03FOOD.html"]http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/03/business/03FOOD.html[/url] /p
pBy GREG WINTER/p
pAn investigation of dozens of food companies by the Food and Drugbr /
Administration has found that in spite of strict labeling laws, asbr /
many as 25 percent of manufacturers failed to list commonbr /
ingredients that can cause potentially fatal allergic reactions./p
p The mislabeling poses a threat to the roughly seven millionbr /
Americans who suffer from food allergies and who rely on abr /
product's packaging to keep them safe, according to the F.D.A. /p
p In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the amount ofbr /
food recalled from store shelves for containing allergy- provokingbr /
ingredients like peanuts and eggs that were not listed on thebr /
product's label. Worried about the trend, the F.D.A. enlisted thebr /
support of state regulators in Minnesota and Wisconsin to undertakebr /
a series of inspections at food plants over the last two years,br /
trying to grasp the extent of the problem and correct it at thebr /
source./p
p The agency examined 85 companies of all sizes that were likely tobr /
use common allergy triggers in abundance: cookie makers, candybr /
companies and ice cream manufacturers. Its report, which wasbr /
completed earlier this year, found that a quarter of the companiesbr /
made products with raw ingredients like nuts, but omitted them frombr /
the labels describing the food. /p
p Perhaps more surprising, only slightly more than half of thebr /
manufacturers checked their products to ensure that all of thebr /
ingredients were accurately reflected on the labels, the reportbr /
said, making it all the more difficult for consumers to know whichbr /
foods might cause allergic reactions that are oftenbr /
life-threatening./p
p "The fact that ingredient listings can be dead wrong certainlybr /
points to major shortfalls in food safety," said Caroline Smithbr /
DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in thebr /
Public Interest. "The accuracy of a label can really save a life."/p
p Although the cause of food allergies is still something of abr /
mystery, they are the most common cause of anaphylaxis, a severebr /
reaction in which the skin itches, the throat swells and breathingbr /
becomes short. In the most serious cases, blood pressure falls, thebr /
heart beat fluctuates and some victims die. /p
p The F.D.A. report does not discuss the prevalence of foodbr /
allergies, but every year, 30,000 people are rushed to emergencybr /
rooms because of them, according to the American Academy ofbr /
Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. As many as 200 of them die. /p
p Many of these illnesses occur at restaurants or in homes, and arebr /
not necessarily the fault of a food manufacturer. Some schools havebr /
removed peanut butter from their cafeterias and several airlinesbr /
have taken steps to accommodate passengers who have food allergies,br /
including banning peanuts as the traditional after-takeoff snack./p
p It is not clear how many allergic consumers have fatal reactionsbr /
to mislabeled products, but even when they do, the manufacturer maybr /
not be liable for them. Last August, a Wisconsin jury ruled againstbr /
the family of Joshua Ramirez, a 21-year- old junior at a biblebr /
college who had a lifelong allergy to peanuts and who died in 1996br /
after eating chocolate chip cookies from the vending machine in hisbr /
dormitory./p
p During the trial, the company, Slettin Vending Inc., acknowledgedbr /
that the cookies contained peanut residue, although the nuts didbr /
not appear on the list of ingredients. /p
p Still, only a small amount of peanuts were found in the cookies.br /
It may have been enough to provoke a fatal reaction in Joshua, thebr /
company concedes, but it was not sufficient for a jury to deem thebr /
product unreasonably dangerous to the average consumer. That is thebr /
standard of proof necessary in many product liability cases./p
p "People are convinced that with allergies you just get itchy,br /
watery eyes," said Dixie G. Ramirez, Joshua's mother. "They do notbr /
believe they can be fatal."/p
p After suffering an allergic reaction, consumers can be treatedbr /
with a shot of epinephrine, and they are often encouraged to carrybr /
the drug with them. But there is no medical treatment to preventbr /
allergic reactions to food from occurring. Even patients whobr /
receive epinephrine may need additional treatment, so clear andbr /
accurate labels may be the only thing standing between abr /
susceptible consumer and a trip to the hospital./p
p As awareness of the problem grows, manufacturers say they arebr /
paying more attention to what goes into their products, but it isbr /
often difficult for them to know when ingredients that can provokebr /
a reaction, called allergens, slip into the food chain undetected./p
p In fact, many of the "hidden" allergens found in the F.D.A. studybr /
were not deliberately added, but wound up in sweets because bakersbr /
routinely used the same utensils to stir separate mixes, or reusedbr /
baking sheets without washing them between batches. Slettin, forbr /
example, used the same pan liners in its bakery from one day to thebr /
next./p
p In some factories, parchment papers were used as many as 10 timesbr /
before being replaced, the F.D.A. found. In at least one plant,br /
conveyor belts that coated candies in chocolate were cleaned onlybr /
once a year, allowing peanut residue to get into products that asbr /
far as the manufacturer was concerned, contained nothing risky atbr /
all. /p
p Such cross-contamination may seem incidental. But for people withbr /
food allergies, ingesting as little as one five-thousandth of abr /
teaspoon of an allergen can induce a fatal reaction within minutes,br /
according to Dr. Hugh A. Sampson, director of Mount Sinai School ofbr /
Medicine's food allergy institute. /p
p Current F.D.A. rules require companies to list everything thatbr /
goes into their products, but allow trace amounts of "natural"br /
ingredients to be omitted from labels. /p
p To close those loopholes, a coalition of attorneys general in ninebr /
states, from New York to Wyoming, petitioned the F.D.A. last May tobr /
issue new regulations. If enacted, the new rules would requirebr /
manufacturers to warn consumers that their products might containbr /
allergens, even if they are not deliberately added as ingredients./p
p Turning the petition into new regulations could take years, sincebr /
manufacturers would have ample opportunity to fight them. For now,br /
the F.D.A. says it is having more success persuading the industrybr /
to make voluntary changes. In fact, the agency found that most ofbr /
the companies it inspected were willing to overhaul theirbr /
manufacturing./p
p But the F.D.A. cannot afford to visit all food companies,br /
prompting some lawmakers to push for legislation with stricterbr /
standards. Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, hasbr /
introduced legislation in Congress to require manufacturers to actbr /
to prevent unintentional contamination of products, something thebr /
law does not now require. /p
p It also calls upon food companies to list allergens by theirbr /
"common English" names. Even when they do appear on labels, manybr /
ordinary allergens are referred to by their formal names, likebr /
"casein" for milk or "albumin" for eggs./p
p "To the lay person, these terms are Greek," said Annebr /
Mu/p

Posted on: Mon, 04/02/2001 - 10:18pm
anonymous's picture
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Joined: 05/28/2009 - 16:42

The Goose,
Great article. Thanks for posting it.
It contains some pretty fighting facts,

Posted on: Mon, 04/02/2001 - 11:52pm
Going Nuts's picture
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Joined: 10/04/2001 - 09:00

Boy, if this article doesn't make you want to mill your own wheat, bake your own bread (or cookies!), etc., then I don't know what will. You can be sure I'll be cutting this article out and saving it for my file.
Amy

Posted on: Tue, 04/03/2001 - 1:49am
FromTheSouth's picture
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Joined: 03/01/2000 - 09:00

This same or very similar article can be found on:
[url="http://www.msnbc.com/msn/553990.asp"]http://www.msnbc.com/msn/553990.asp[/url]
I just saw it listed on my internet home page.

Posted on: Tue, 04/03/2001 - 2:17am
EILEEN's picture
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Joined: 04/06/1999 - 09:00

This NY Times article got a mention on national TV this morning, CNN News as well as the news summary on the business news at CNBC (Squack Box).
[This message has been edited by EILEEN (edited April 03, 2001).]

Posted on: Tue, 04/03/2001 - 3:28am
Chris PeanutAllergy Com's picture
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Joined: 04/25/2001 - 09:00

[url="http://www.newsnet5.com/sh/health/stories/health-57051620010403-090422.html"]http://www.newsnet5.com/sh/health/stories/health-57051620010403-090422.html[/url]

Posted on: Tue, 04/03/2001 - 3:30am
Chris PeanutAllergy Com's picture
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Joined: 04/25/2001 - 09:00

[url="http://my.aol.com/news/news_story.psp?type=1&cat=0100&id=0104030613370906"]http://my.aol.com/news/news_story.psp?type=1&cat=0100&id=0104030613370906[/url]
------------------
Stay Safe,
[email]"Chris@PeanutAllergy.Com"[/email]

Posted on: Tue, 04/03/2001 - 3:34am
Chris PeanutAllergy Com's picture
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Joined: 04/25/2001 - 09:00

If someone can find the FDA press release and post it that would be helpful. I checked this morning and it was not on the FDA.com site yet. Maybe request from them where you can get a copy to post here or request a link. Also you may want to mention that they work on getting the Food Recalls and Alerts up on their site in a more timely manner. Often we hear about and send out FDA alerts that they don't even have up on their site yet. Today we find the media out with this FDA press release yet no press release (at least not an easy to locate one) on the FDA site yet.
------------------
Stay Safe,
[email]"Chris@PeanutAllergy.Com"[/email]
[This message has been edited by Chris PeanutAllergy Com (edited April 03, 2001).]

Posted on: Tue, 04/03/2001 - 5:11am
EILEEN's picture
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Joined: 04/06/1999 - 09:00

The NY Times article is a great one to e-mail out to everyone you know who think you are obsessively insane!
I have already had some nice return messages from people I've sent it out to who have "send the light" and realize that I have been acting out of real, not imagined, concern.
Their rationale must be "If it's in the NY Times it must be real!"
PS. SEnd the article since you have to pay for their stuff once it gets archived.

Posted on: Tue, 04/03/2001 - 5:26am
The Goose's picture
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Joined: 04/02/2001 - 09:00

One reason I posted the text to the article (instead of simply a link) is so that this group would have access to it for posterity.
One other point of interest is that this article appeared prominantly on the front of the business section, not buried in some back pages.

Posted on: Tue, 04/03/2001 - 5:56am
Beth's picture
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Joined: 03/06/1999 - 09:00

This story is really getting some air-time! I heard a promo earlier for the local 5pm news (Tampa FL) "Tonight, bad news for people with food allergies". So, even though the story is bad, it's getting coverage. I just visited the FDA web site, and commented on the article. I, for one, never realized things were quite that bad (1/4th of the labels are inaccurate) It is discouraging, but hopefully now that it's out in the open, things will start to change.
Beth

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