Nut allergy

Peanut and tree nuts in the food manufacturing facility

Traditionally peanut allergy has always been considered the most “dangerous” food allergy. However, tree nuts can cause a wide spectrum of allergic reactions which may be equally or even more severe than allergies to peanuts. This report by FACTS, the well-known food allergy consulting and testing service run by Dr Harris Steinman.

Which nuts are regulated in South Africa?
According to the South African Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 of 1972) – Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs, (R146 of 1 March 2010) – both peanuts and tree nuts are classified as distinct allergens within the group of the eight legislated ‘common allergens’.

Tree nuts are further classified as the following: almonds, brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, macadamia nuts, pecan nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts. Tree nuts do not include butternut, pine nut, coconut and palm nut.

What is the severity of peanut and tree nut allergy?
Traditionally peanut allergy has always been considered the most “dangerous” food allergy. However, tree nuts can cause a wide spectrum of allergic reactions which may be equally or even more severe than allergies to peanuts.

The prevalence of cashew nut allergy has increased in recent years. In a UK study, cashew nut allergic children showed a higher rate of anaphylaxis (severe life-threatening reaction) when consuming cashew nuts than with peanuts. The rate of severe reactions to cashew nut within the group was 73%; whereas 31% of the children reacted to peanuts.

Are tree nut allergic individuals sensitive to all the nuts?
Tree nut allergic individuals can be allergic to one or more, or all of the tree nuts. Even those with a peanut allergy may also react to some tree nuts.

The misuse of blanket statements such as “made in a factory that uses nuts” has been one of the reasons for the inclusion of regulations in South Africa for the use of precautionary statements.

As this type of statement has been used on so many products, all peanut and tree nut allergic individuals would either avoid purchasing and consuming these products as they may react to minute amounts of nuts, or would begin to ignore such statements if they consumed such products and did not react.

The irresponsible use of such statements therefore not only limits the selection of food products that nut-allergic individuals can consume, but may also lead to increased risk-taking and possible fatal allergic reactions.

How does one manage tree nuts and peanuts in a food manufacturing facility?
Given the high potential for cross-contamination in a nut processing environment, food manufacturers handling peanuts and tree nuts require an allergen control program to ensure that all allergens in a specific finished product are declared on the label.

The controls applicable for managing all common allergens are also applicable to the management of peanuts and tree nuts, and include effective procedures for designation, segregation, sanitation and labelling.

It is important to control each type of nut separately as these can have different allergenic proteins and individuals can be allergic to different nuts (as discussed above).

An important distinction that needs to be made for peanuts and tree nuts compared to the control of other common allergens is that these are often handled in the whole or particulate form in the manufacturing environment.

Therefore, if contamination with peanuts or tree nuts were to occur, this may very well involve a whole or piece of nut rather than a trace of allergenic residue. Since the nut fragments would not likely be evenly dispersed through the “cross contacted” product, an individual consuming such a product could encounter a much higher level of allergenic protein in a smaller portion of the final product, with a greater chance of a fatal reaction.

The particulate nature of peanuts and tree nuts also needs to be taken into account when sampling for allergen testing.

Swabbing, for instance, may not be the best method of testing for the presence of particulate pieces of nut. Since in-line verification methods may not always pick up whole pieces of nut, inspection of production lines and processing areas after cleaning is crucial to ensure that all particulates are removed.

A preferred option for nut testing would be to analyse a thoroughly homogenised portion of the next product (not intended to contain peanuts or tree nuts) for the presence of these nuts using suitable testing methods.

These points should be considered in your allergen control program to ensure that contamination is reduced and that due diligence in all parts of the manufacturing environment can be shown.

Source: FACTS

The FACTS laboratory analyses for the presence of all of the tree nuts listed in R146: almonds, brazil, cashew, hazel, macadamia, pecan, pistachio and walnuts. 

For more information on FACTS services, contact Carine at 021 551-2993/ [email protected]


FACTS practical allergen management workshop

Cape Town 4 – 5 October 2011

FACTS is the host of Practical Allergen Management Workshops which run over a two-day period and which are held twice a year. These workshops have enjoyed great success to date and have proven to be of great value to its food industry clients in their quest towards effective food allergen control. The next workshop will be held in Cape Town on 4 – 5 October 2011.

The first day of the workshop program aims at instilling a comprehensive understanding of allergens and allergen control, as well as the areas in the food manufacturing environment where effective allergen management is required.

NEW! A step-by-step session on writing an Allergen Control Plan: The second day of the program has been reconstructed to include a step-by-step session where Rolf Uys (AIBI) and Donna Cawthorn (FACTS) will practically workshop the writing of an effective Allergen Control Plan (ACP). Exercises will be included to facilitate delegates to conduct allergen risk assessments in the plant, to schedule production and cleaning for allergens, to design cleaning validation studies and to manage an allergen-related crisis.

VENUE: Lagoon Beach Hotel & Conference Centre

RSVP: Early bird registration before 20 September 2011

QUERIES: Shafeeqah: (021) 551-2993 / [email protected]