Consumer group asks FDA to test foods for undeclared allergens, as Canada does

Tell the FDA: We Need Sesame Allergen Labeling Now!

FDA ‘eyeballs’ factories instead of testing products

WASHINGTON - The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today charged that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is endangering people with food allergies by not using modern methods to detect allergy-causing contaminants in foods. Contamination with peanut, egg, soy, and other common food allergens could be life-threatening.

    The FDA does not test foods for undeclared allergens — it only occasionally relies on visual inspection of manufacturing plants — even though its own study two years ago found that numerous candy, ice cream, and bakery products contained undeclared peanut or egg allergens.

     In contrast, for several years the Canadian government has routinely conducted tests for certain allergens — peanuts, soy, egg, and milk — in foods bought at grocery stores. The Canadian government uses the results of those tests to help decide whether to warn consumers of undeclared allergens.

     “The millions of Americans who have food allergies are entitled to the same protection from the FDA that the Canadian government now gives to its citizens,” said Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI’s Executive Director. “It is astonishing that the FDA insists on only ‘eyeballing’ manufacturing facilities — on the rare occasions when they inspect for undeclared allergens — instead of using modern tests. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been switching from ‘poke and sniff’to detect dangerous germs in meat using laboratory tests.”

     In a letter sent to FDA acting deputy principal commissioner Bernard Schwetz, CSPI called on the FDA to begin testing processed foods for allergenic ingredients not listed on labels.

     Approximately four million Americans, including up to six percent of children, are allergic to one type of food or another. Each year an estimated 29,000 Americans are rushed to emergency rooms because of allergic reactions to food, and an estimated 150 people die of such allergic reactions.

     On October 4, CSPI petitioned the FDA to require food labels to disclose common allergens and to set manufacturing standards to prevent the inadvertent contamination of non-allergenic foods with allergens. The FDA has taken no action on that petition, on a similar one filed in May 2000 by the Attorneys General of nine states (and supported by 22 other Attorneys General), or on CSPI’s July 26, 2001, petition to improve the legibility of ingredient lists on all food packages.