Whilst the results of this survey relate to a relatively small number of grab samples and can not be seen in isolation as representative of the market, the results to some degree mirror the FSAI study (2011). In this study those containing undeclared traces of peanuts equated to 3%, those with almond traces 6% and those with traces of hazelnuts 8.5% walnut traces were not found in any samples. In total only 5 of the 35 samples with allergen warnings were found to be contaminated with traces of nuts the majority being hazelnut due to the prevalence of this ingredient in the manufacture of chocolate. The contamination in 4 of these samples can be directly related to the nuts handled in the same production environment. This supports the need for the introduction of a robust risk based system of guidance together with the need for specific testing of ingredients to ensure precautionary labelling is only applied where necessary and that such labelling is where possible more specific.
In future studies, if samples are examined for peanuts alone and labelling advice based solely on that factor, those with specific tree nut allergies will still face unnecessary obstacles limiting their choice and in groups such as students and young people complacency could lead to tragedy. This study has illustrated that a proportion of the sample group was indeed contaminated with tree nuts. Contamination with peanuts alone equated to 3% but tree nuts brought the overall contamination rate to 14% substantially increasing the scale of the problem and highlighting the need for further research in this field.
One limitation in the study was the absence of a suitable test for the presence of brazil nuts. This is a nut which gives rise to a particularly severe allergic reaction in some consumers and for which a specific test and labelling would be welcomed. Brazil nuts whilst extensively used or handled by those involved in the luxury end of the market, they are not generally used by the market leaders. Further research needs to take place into this area.
Until there is a consistent and reliable approach to allergen labelling consumers, particularly those in high risk groups, need to be made aware of the potential risks they face by not only ignoring warnings but also failing to read the ingredients lists. Consumers should be made aware of the voluntary nature of such warnings and also that the lack of a warning does not mean a product is “nut free”
With the rising numbers of our population suffering from food allergies, nut allergies are an increasing issue within the chocolate industry. The industry is already very engaged in the debate about the effectiveness of may contain warnings. It can be argued that some manufacturing practices such as same line production may always present a small risk of trace contamination of specific nut types. Much more extensive testing would be required at the beginning of specific product runs to assess the true nature of this risk and the effectiveness of cleaning programmes as part of a risk based approach
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