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FDA challenge: Finding how peanut residue got into the flour

It’s a mystery playing out in post-Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) fashion. Supply chains are being laid down side by side to see if there is any way that soft red winter wheat grown in southern Georgia could have been contaminated with peanut residue.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking with fresh eyes at how peanuts contaminate popular consumer products. It’s not an issue for 99 percent or more of the population who do not suffer from peanut allergies. But for the 0.6 to 1 percent of Americans who do live with peanut allergies, exposure to a little peanut dust can cause anything from strong allergic reactions to deadly anaphylactic shock.

peanutshippingbag_406x250About six weeks ago, a 100-year-old company called Grain Craft in Chattanooga, TN, announced that it had “learned of the intermittent presence of peanut in the wheat flour supplied by one of our flour mills in Georgia.”

Grain Craft said it “had determined the source to be soft red winter wheat grown in peanut producing regions of the South.”

“OK, but how could that happen?” ask peanut industry sources in the South. Peanut crops in southern Georgia are rotated between those of cotton and corn. Harvest moves quickly from grading to warehouse, and shipment occurs in sealed bulk bags.

“I can’t think of a way that it could happen in the field,” says Joy Carter Crosby, director of communications for the Georgia Peanut Commission.

Grain Craft says that FDA testing did not find any peanut protein in the flour from a southern Georgia mill it owns and that FDA’s inspection of the mill did not turn up any problems.

“To be clear, Grain Craft does not manufacture or produce any consumer products at the South Georgia mill, nor does Grain Craft use or produce peanut or any peanut products in any of our facilities at any time,” noted a company statement.

“We are a supplier of milled wheat to food and baking companies across the U.S.,” it added. “We have been working with our customers and the FDA as they continue to conduct assessments of their products and evaluate next steps, including potential recalls. Any future notification of consumer product recalls will come directly from the FDA or finished product manufacturers, not from Grain Craft.”

GAredwheat_406x250Since it began, the recalls linked to Grain Craft have expanded to include:

  • Cinnabon Stix
  • Safeway 8″ Single Layer Red Velvet Cake
  • ACME 12″ Decorated Chocolate Cookie
  • Jewel 12″ Decorated Chocolate Chip Cookie
  • Chick-fil-A Chocolate Chunk Cookies
  • Hostess Snack Cakes and Donuts
  • Rold Gold Select Varieties of Pretzels

Grain Craft sells to baking and food service companies, not directly to consumers. It claims to be the largest independent flour miller in the U.S.

FDA says people with allergies should avoid these products. The Landover, MD-based Asthma and Allergy Foundation (AAFA) wants to generate greater public awareness of this stubborn problem:

“We urge everyone to spread the news about this FDA advisory (about the danger of peanut contamination in food products), as well as any additional recalls, within the food allergy community so that we can prevent future reactions arising from this situation.”

Meanwhile, FDA continues to investigate “low levels” of peanut residue in flour.

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