The Cumin Recall

I’ve been following the peanut-contaminated cumin recall news, as I’m sure many of you have been as well. According to the official FDA recall notice, released December 26, 2014:

Adams Flavors, Foods & Ingredients of Gonzales, Texas is voluntarily recalling cumin products because they may contain undeclared peanut proteins… 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.

Allergic Living maintains a page with a Q&A and a running list of foods that have been declared to potentially claim the tainted cumin. It seems like barely a day has gone by in the past five weeks when I haven’t received a new recall notice from FARE. Blogs like Nut Free Wok are also helping provide people with information about the recall and tips on how to stay informed.

To me, this episode demonstrates a few things about the challenges of living and eating with food allergies.

First, it emphasizes how interconnected the modern American food system is. It makes following a contaminated product incredibly complex. As Allergic Living’s list shows, foods as varied as processed meats, hummus, rice, veggie burgers, bread crumbs, spices, and spice mixes have been affected so far. As a foodie, some of these foods (hummus???) shouldn’t even have cumin in them in the first place! It’s incredible that one product from one factory from one company could get spread so far and wide – a testament to the scale and interconnectedness of the food industry.

Second, it makes me appreciate the work that allergen-free manufacturers put into making safe products for consumers. Knowing how far a contaminated food can spread without anyone having knowledge of it drives home how hard it must be to make sure a particular batch of a particular ingredient isn’t contaminated, or doesn’t contain something that may be contaminated.

Third, this episode reminds me of many conversations I’ve had about the need for more transparent labeling on packaged foods. If you’re peanut allergic and on the look-out for products containing cumin following this recall, it must be incredibly frustrating to find foods that list “spices” as an ingredient. Cumin is a spice. Is it a spice used in these “spices”? As many have pointed out “may contain” and “processed on shared equipment” labeling language required by FALCPA has been a powerful first step to making foods and food production more transparent for people with dietary restrictions. But it’s still a far cry from rules that would require that every individual ingredient be labeled – something that would not only help people with allergies to common spices or minor ingredients, but also those who are worried about contamination following recalls of a common ingredient like cumin.

Fourth, not being peanut allergic myself, I can only imagine the fear that this has caused for people who are. What do you do in this kind of situation, where there are still so many unknowns? Proceed as usual and hope for the best? Cut out processed foods? Cut out foods that list “spices” and “cumin” as ingredients? I would imagine it varies by person based on their own allergic sensitivity and tolerance of risk-taking.

What are your reactions to the cumin recall? Has it impacted your eating or shopping habits? Have you written about the recall on your own blog? Please share!

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