If you or a family member is one of the estimated 32 million Americans who have a food allergy, you know the importance of checking the ingredients of products before you purchase them. But what if those labels were inaccurate or misleading? It might be happening more than you know, and one grocery retailer has been warned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to what it calls ” a pattern of receiving and offering for sale misbranded food products necessitating a series of food recalls for allergens.”
On Dec. 16, the FDA wrote a warning letter to John Mackey, the President/CEO of Whole Foods Market regarding this pattern.
“For the time period of October 2019 to November 2020, your firm recalled 32 food products due to undeclared allergen(s),” wrote William A. Correll Jr., director of the FDA’s Office of Compliance. “We noticed similar patterns of numerous recalls for undeclared allergens in previous years as well.”
For some consumers, this type of mislabeling can be extremely dangerous. According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), 200,000 people in the U.S. require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food every year. While there are more than 170 foods that have reportedly caused allergic reactions, there are eight primary major food allergens that are required to be disclosed:
- Crustacean shellfish
- Tree nuts
Although a statement on the Whole Foods website states that the company uses “Good Manufacturing Practices used to segregate in a facility that also processes allergen,” the FDA states that a variety of foods sold under the Whole Foods brand, primarily in the deli and bakery sections of the store, did not declare at least one ingredient that is a major food allergen. Examples included mislabeled items with milk, eggs and tree nuts.
The agency’s letter requests a written response within 15 days of receipt listing specific steps Whole Foods is taking to address the violations.
In a statement, Correll states that the entire food supply chain “can and must” do a better job of protecting consumers.
“It’s important that food packaging, at all points of the supply chain, appropriately lists the presence of all major food allergens so that individuals with food sensitivities can take appropriate steps to avoid products that may cause them serious and life-threatening harm,” Correll said in the statement, “Consumers deserve to know exactly what they are buying to eat and to trust that the product labels clearly list all major food allergens.”
When asked about the situation by Food Safety News, Whole Foods responded quickly.
“Whole Foods Market takes food safety very seriously,” a Whole Foods spokesperson said. “We are working closely with the FDA to ensure all practices and procedures in our stores meet if not exceed food safety requirements. We remain committed to maintaining the highest quality standards in the industry.”
However, the company did not provide any specifics at the time on how the situation would be rectified.