by Lauren Handel
FDA recently issued a consumer advisory warning people who are highly allergic to peanuts to avoid products containing ground cumin because peanut protein has been detected in some cumin shipments. Since last December, I have noticed many recalls due to undeclared peanuts in products containing cumin, and I have been wondering what’s going on. How could so many companies be affected by peanut protein in cumin? I have been surprised that, until now, FDA has been silent about the issue, and it has not attracted media attention. Thankfully, Allergic Living magazine has investigated and found some answers, although many questions remain.
According to Allergic Living’s investigation, there have been two waves of recalls, which have been traced back to two Turkish suppliers of cumin — although the peanut contamination may have originated farther back in the supply chain and the cause of the contamination is unknown. Allergic Living’s investigation found that the largest set of recalls began in December 2014 when it was discovered that an American company, which had been supplied by one of the Turkish companies, sold a peanut-tainted batch of cumin powder to at least 38 other companies. Those 38 companies, in turn, have supplied cumin products to other companies, further expanding the recalls. According to Allergic Living, 580,000 pounds of beef, pork and chicken have been recalled to date. Whole Foods alone has recalled more than 100 products. Allergic Living has a list of the recalls, which is broader than the one included in FDA’s consumer advisory.
This wave of recalls demonstrates how a problem triggered by one ingredient supplier can cause a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. It also reinforces the importance of supplier verification. Few, if any, food companies have control over the production of every ingredient or raw material they use. Rather, manufacturers must rely on their suppliers to provide unadulterated, accurately labeled products that meet the manufacturer’s required specifications. Supplier verification ensures that such reliance is well placed. It should include review of a supplier’s food safety and production practices, periodic audits, and product testing and/or certificates of analysis.
The growing number of cumin-related recalls also shows that companies down the supply chain are likely to bear the costs of a supplier’s problem. Recalls can be very expensive and devastating for smaller companies that can’t afford recall insurance. Recalls also can harm a company’s reputation and cause it to lose customers and, therefore, revenues. This is why companies should have contracts with their ingredient suppliers requiring the supplier to indemnify the buyer for its costs and losses in the event that the supplier’s problem causes a recall. Such contracts also should explain what each party’s roles and responsibilities will be in the event of a recall.
We will continue to follow the news on the cumin-related recalls.