The Kellogg Company has voluntarily recalled its products due to peanut contamination. The precautionary recall was announced yesterday by the Kellogg Company with the help of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This peanut recall encompasses various varieties from many of their sub-brands such as Mother’s, Keebler, Kellogg’s Special K brownies, Murray and Famous Amos snacks and cookies. Kellogg fears that all of the recalled products may have been contaminated with undeclared peanut residue. The recall by Kellogg was announced after its grain supplier ‘Grain Craft’ recalled its wheat flour for having ‘the potential to contain low levels of peanut residue.’

Peanut allergy is believed to be the most common and deadliest food allergy found in the American population. In the US, between the years 1997 and 2008 the number of children with peanut allergies tripled and currently 0.6% to 1.3% of the American population is suffering from peanut allergy.

The level of an allergic reaction to peanuts differs from person to person. Upon consumption of peanuts, the allergic reaction can cause symptoms such as swelling, sneezing, asthma, itchiness, urticaria, eczema, abdominal pain, low blood pressure, diarrhea and so on. However, in some people eating peanuts can lead to a severe and potentially fatal allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can cause death by organ shock, cardiac arrest or suffocation.

For people with peanut allergy, there is no cure and the best solution for them is to completely avoid peanuts and other food products containing peanuts. The US Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization recommends that an allergic individual should always read the Food Advisory of Nutrition Facts Label of any edible products in order to identify peanut ingredients. In the current recall, although the levels of peanut residues are believed to be very low, some overly sensitive people may still suffer from a mild form of allergic reaction. Even trace amounts of peanuts in food have been found to cause allergic reactions.

The FDA immediately took notice of the recall and declared that while people with severe peanut allergies should avoid all the recalled Kellogg products, the danger of an allergic attack from the contamination is low. The concentration of peanut exposure in the recalled wheat flour is very low and not considered to cause any adverse or fatal reactions to an individual with peanut allergy. However, it is better to exercise caution. Kellogg also announced that so far they have received no reports of any allergic attacks or deaths caused by their products and they are taking all the necessary precautions to ensure that there is no damage. Moreover, Kellogg is also offering a full refund to consumers who have already bought the recalled products. A full list of all the products has been made available along with images on the official Kellogg website.

Under FALCPA, all edible products with traces or residues of peanuts or any other eight major allergens in the US are supposed to show a ‘May Contain’ warning on the food package. In the case of the current recall of Kellogg products, since the contamination is believed to have happened by accident, the packages will have no allergy warnings on them.

Many of you may be wondering how wheat flour can be contaminated with peanut residues? Well you may be surprised to know that such contamination is pretty common and has been a sore problem for the FDA since many years. In this particular case of contamination, let us take a look at the original source of the contamination: a 100 years old independent flour miller known as ‘Grain Craft’. More than six weeks ago when news of contamination at Grain Craft broke, the company stated  that they have “learned of the intermittent presence of peanut in the wheat flour supplied by one of our flour mills in Georgia,” and they “had determined the source to be soft red winter wheat grown in peanut producing regions of the South.” Since Grain Craft is one of the largest flour millers in the US, the issue is of grave concern. However, the manufacturers do seem to be on hand in solving the current problem.

“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,” said a spokesperson for Grain Craft.

Another nagging question that comes to mind is- How do wheat crops come in contact with peanuts back in the good old South? This still remains a mystery. Despite relentless efforts, the FDA is still at a loss to answer how the two crops cross paths.

“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.

In southern Georgia, the peanut crops are grown between crops of cotton and corn. When it is time for harvesting, the crops are taken to the warehouse and then shipped in sealed bags. In the current case, the FDA carried out tests at the warehouses and other facilities but is still unable to form a basis as to why the contamination of wheat with peanut is increasing with an alarming frequency.