Batches of a food additive from India have been found to contain undeclared peanut protein prompting authorities to warn of a serious risk to allergic consumers.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said some batches of soybean lecithin imported to the United Kingdom were found to contain undeclared peanut protein. Lecithin is used in chocolate, margarine, bread, ice cream and dairy products, infant formulas and convenience foods.

The issue was raised by Germany via a Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) notification in late April and affects dozens of countries including the United States.

It could pose a significant food safety risk as peanut allergy is one of the most common and is estimated to affect one in 50 children in the UK and 6 million people in the United States.

Soybean lecithin is widely used in food production and UK authorities are investigating to determine the scale of the incident and impact on the food supply chain and consumers. The FSA held a call with the British Retail Consortium about the contamination, which occurred in India, earlier this month. India was also at the center of ethylene oxide being detected in sesame seeds sent to Europe in 2020. The chemical is not allowed for food use in the EU.

The affected soybean lecithin is known to have been used in numerous products in the UK and the levels of peanut protein detected vary, depending upon the initial amount of contamination and onward processing in the supply chain. For example, contamination has occurred in chocolate, which is used as an ingredient in other products.

Trade group worried
The European Lecithin Manufacturers Association (ELMA) said it was very concerned about the issue and members were doing additional analyses and controls to prevent the presence of peanut and the peanut protein in soybean lecithin. So far, only the additive from India is known to be affected.

Measures adopted by members include asking Indian suppliers to carry out pre-shipment tests and carrying out their own analyses for peanut protein using validated methods on batches before placing them on the market.

ELMA advised users of soybean lecithin from India to carry out a risk analysis and evaluate ways to communicate the potential risk to allergic consumers.

Food authorities asked businesses to use traceability to identify products, or ingredients used, containing soybean lecithin that came from manufacturers in India. If any affected items are found, product-specific risk assessments should be completed.

If any product containing soybean lecithin has been contaminated with peanut and labeling does not manage the risk to consumers, it should be withdrawn or recalled. Foods still within the control of the company’s supply chain can be relabeled so the risk of peanut contamination is communicated to consumers.

Businesses should also ensure that any future supply of soybean lecithin does not contain undeclared peanut protein before further processing or production.

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