More support for early exposure to peanuts to prevent allergies

There’s a lot of mights and maybes, but according to scientists, evidence is accumulating that food allergies in children might be prevented by feeding infants peanuts and other allergenic food in their first year of life.

That finding would challenge the recommendation of the World Health Organization that babies be fed exclusively breast milk for the first six months of life.

“At least as far as peanut is concerned, I would recommend parting from that,” Dr. Gideon Lack, professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College London, told the N.Y. Times.

chapman.peanuts.apr.10Dr. Lack was the senior author of a study last year that found feeding peanuts to young children starting when they are 4 to 11 months old sharply reduced the risk of their developing peanut allergies. That upended the conventional wisdom that it is best to avoid introducing peanuts until children are older.

Those results are already starting to affect feeding practices, but they left several unanswered questions. Now, some of those questions were answered by two additional studies that are being published in The New England Journal of Medicine and presented here at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology on Friday.

One question was whether children who consume peanuts from an early age will still remain free of allergies if they stop consuming them. The researchers followed the children from the original study for another year, from the time they turned 5 until they turned 6. For that year, they were not supposed to eat peanuts at all.

The results were reassuring. There was no big increase in allergies.

“It tells you the protective effect is stable,” Dr. Lack said.

Another question was whether the early feeding technique could be applied to other types of foods and to children at normal risk of allergies. (The original study involved children deemed to have a high risk of peanut allergy.)

The researchers conducted a second study at King’s College London involving 1,300 infants who were 3 months old and being fed only breast milk. Half were randomly assigned to continue on only breast milk until 6 months of age, which is the recommended practice in Britain. The other half were to be regularly fed small amounts of peanut butter and five other allergenic foods: eggs, yogurt, sesame, white fish and wheat. The children were assessed for allergies when they turned three.

Overall, 5.6 percent of the babies who were fed the allergenic foods early developed an allergy to at least one of the six foods, a modest improvement from the 7.1 percent in the breast-milk-only group. However, the difference was not statistically significant, meaning it could have occurred by chance.

One problem was that fewer than half the parents in the early-introduction group actually fed their children the required six foods on a regular basis. But when researchers looked only at those children whose parents adhered to the feeding regimen, there was a statistically significant reduction in allergies. Only 2.4 percent of those children developed a food allergy, compared with 7.3 percent of those whose parents faithfully stuck to breast milk only for six months. There were also significant reductions in peanut allergies alone and egg allergies alone.

In a commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Gary W.K. Wong, a pediatrician at Chinese University of Hong Kong, cautioned about jumping to conclusions. He said that in any case, the fact that so many parents did not stick to the regimen suggested it was too demanding to be practical, and that less burdensome ways must be found to introduce allergenic foods early.

“In the meantime,” he said, “evidence is building that early consumption rather than delayed introduction of foods is likely to be more beneficial as a strategy for the primary prevention of food allergy.”


Food fraud: Aust. pine nuts recalled after they were found to be peanuts

A Brisbane wholesale company has urgently recalled a product over fears of allergic reactions that could “put customers in danger” due to incorrect labelling.

pine.nutsQueensland Health has been alerted to the issue by Country Fresh Food Products after plastic containers of pine nuts were found to actually be peanuts.

The incorrect labelling on the containers could lead to an allergic reaction if a person with peanut sensitivities ate the nuts.

The company only discovered the error after a customer contacted them to report the nuts smelt like peanuts not pine nuts.

Further product testing revealed the error and the company is working with Queensland Health.

The company bought the plastic containers from an importer based in Victoria.

Prosecutor says Georgia peanut plant owner OK’d sales of salmonella-tainted food ‘whatever the risk’

Prosecutors are wrapping up their case against the owner of a Georgia peanut plant linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak, saying he knowingly approved shipments of tainted food “whatever the risk.”

peanutJurors began hearing closing arguments Thursday in the five-week federal trial of former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and two others charged with covering up lab tests that found salmonella in peanuts and peanut butter. The company’s products are blamed for killing nine Americans and making 714 others sick in 2008 and 2009.

Defense attorneys took barely an hour Wednesday to rest their cases after more than a month of prosecution testimony.

NM peanut farmers don’t have a market for their crop after outbreak

Beyond those who are tragically affected directly by foodborne illness, outbreaks often result in further fallout in the supply chain.

The Florida tomato industry estimates that it lost millions as a result of a Salmonella outbreak. In 2006, harvest crews found themselves out of work as no one was harvesting spinach following an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that led to a health advisory on fresh bagged spinach. Following the discovery of BSE in Canada in 2003, many in the transport industry found it had nothing to haul to the U.S.sunland-high-res-logo

According to KRQE in Albuquerque, New Mexico peanut farmers are the latest to feel the affects of an outbreak – peanut processor Sunland Inc.’s bankruptcy.

The New Mexico peanut butter plant, involved in a nationwide salmonella outbreak, declared Chapter 7 Bankruptcy early in October, now has growers in eastern New Mexico and west Texas collectively out millions of dollars.

One grower says he’s mostly upset because he feels Sunland wasn’t honest.

Court documents show the plant had been preparing for the possibility of bankruptcy months before doing so, yet the growers say the plant didn’t warn them so they paid for and planted a crop that they may now have to put in storage.

Nuts to you

Salmonella in nuts strikes again. Nuts and seeds seem to be prone to Salmonella contamination. This year alone peanuts, pistchios, sesame and sunflower seeds, pecans and now hazelnuts from two Oregon companies have been recalled due to Salmonella contamination.

Kunze Farms of Dayton, OR is recalling 32,950 lbs. of hazelnut kernels distributed to several different processors and wholesaler’s in the following areas:  

Dayton, OR; , Milton-Freewater, OR; Hauppauge, NY; Mesa, AZ; Cottonwood, AZ; Seattle, WA; Ogden, UT;  San Antonio, TX.; and Parker, CO. The product was packed in 25 lb cartons, under our product brand name of Kunze Farms, ‘Select Shelled Hazelnuts’ Dayton, Oregon with the code numbers 289091A or 299091A.

Willamette Filbert Growers of Newberg, OR is recalling 29,861 lbs of Shelled Hazelnuts and Shelled Organic Hazelnuts.

After product sampling, Salmonella was found on one production lot at the facility where Willamette Filbert Grower’s hazelnuts were shelled. To ensure consumer safety, Willamette Filbert Growers has decided to recall all shelled hazelnuts and shelled organic hazelnuts processed from October 12th 2009 through November 25th 2009. Shelled Hazelnuts and Shelled Organic Hazelnuts were distributed in Oregon and California through wholesale distributors and direct delivery. Unshelled hazelnuts are not subject to this recall. All products subject to recall were packed in 25 lbs. corrugated boxes bearing Willamette Filbert Growers or Meridian Organic Hazelnuts labeled with lot code numbers 289091A and 311091A.

Two Salmonella outbreaks linked to peanut butter, and an additional two Salmonella outbreaks linked to almonds earlier in the decade demonstrate how resilient Salmonella can be on and in dried nut products. At IAFP in August 2005, I co-moderated a symposium at which Robert Tauxe of the CDC said sesame seeds and Salmonella was the next big thing on the international food safety horizon.  His prediction is still looking pretty good.

Pistachios had tested positive for salmonella for months

Every time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issues a public advisory about some food product, the armchair critics pounce.

This time it’s pistachios. On March 30, FDA issued a blanket warning for folks not to eat pistachios or products containing pistachios until further details emerged. The nut industry went … nuts. Perishable Pundit Jim Prevor did his bit about how regulators and others could be sure the contamination went back to the pistachio plant. Several journalists asked me about the economic burden of such a recall, especially since there were no confirmed illnesses. I told CBS Radio that if industry wanted an economically prudent plan, industry should keep Salmonella out of pistachios.

The other aspect is that, given the public and government scrutiny of FDA, there is probably something going on – something is not quite right at the farm or processing plant or wherever – for FDA to issue a blanket warning. FDA just doesn’t have all the details yet.

Here are some details:

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today is reporting this morning that Setton Pistachio, the company that recalled 2 million pounds of pistachios on Monday, had been receiving positive salmonella tests for as long as five months.

David Acheson, FDA associate commissioner, said,

"The question is, ‘Did Setton Farms have an ongoing problem, and what did they do about it?’ "

The FDA believes batches of pistachios that tested positive for salmonella were destroyed, not distributed. Setton Pistachio spokeswoman Fabia D’Arienzo could not confirm that.

Almond Princess Linda Harris, an expert on salmonella in nuts at the University of California-Davis, said,

"If I’m getting a positive (result) and a couple of months later another positive, and then another, I would think the appropriate response would be to say, ‘This is not right. I’ve got to figure this out.’ "

Kraft spokeswoman Susan Davison said Kraft sent an internal food-safety auditing team to Setton Farms’ Terra Bella plant on March 23 and,

"They saw the potential for cross-contamination" between raw and processed pistachios. “For example, often in companies different colored gloves are used for the raw area and the roasted area." However at the Setton plant, the same colored gloves were used in both areas.

Keep poop out of the orchard

At barfblog we’re all about community-generated content. It’s fun when someone emails with a food safety-related story or a picture for us to share.  Today’s content comes from a colleague and avid barfblog groupie who was driving through southern Georgia this morning and snapped the picture at right.

The pictured sign is posted at the entrance of a pecan and peanut company’s roadside market/shop. All I know about this unidentified business is that it distributes stuff like raw, roasted and nut products all over the U.S. 

Sure, it’s a good idea to keep dogs out of the food area of a store, but suggesting to take a walk in the orchard, an equally important food area, is kind of weird.

To me, it seems like the producer should be thinking their orchard is a food area as well. Sure, it’s really tough to control birds, deer and feral pigs, but inviting dogs to take a dump in the orchard (something that is controllable) probably isn’t a good idea.  In the climate of uncertainty around the effectiveness of pathogen reduction strategies in the nut industry, it’s an especially bad idea.

Keep the dog poop out of the orchard.

Natural Grocers defends itself against salmonella

Founded on the belief that "health should not be expensive," Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage grinds its own peanut butter in-store using only domestic, U.S.D.A. certified organic peanuts.

In a statement addressing Natural Grocers’ connection to the outbreak of salmonella in Peanut Corp. of America peanuts, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of Vitamin Cottage Heather Isely says,

"We are a relatively small, family-owned company that only sells carefully screened natural and organic products, and we work hard to source our products domestically because we believe in the quality controls in place in this country. We – among others – have been hurt by this one unscrupulous supplier…"

The company may have learned the hard way that natural and organic products are not invincible to foodborne pathogens.

Elsewhere in the statement, Isely says,

"[W]e trusted our government and industry food inspection process, which usually works extraordinarily well."

Since January 30, the fresh ground peanut butter made in Vitamin Cottage stores has contained peanuts from a new supplier, Hampton Farms.

"To further reassure our customers," Isely states, "we are now testing each lot of the new peanut butter stock for salmonella. We are working to find even more ways of keeping our customers safe."

Way to be proactive… now that you have to.

Don’t let allergies ruin the enjoyment of Christmas treats

Of all the holiday feasts our family has each year, Christmas is my absolute favorite.  Sure the turkey and stuffing are wonderful during Thanksgiving, but nothing can beat the wonderful sweets that are available during Christmas season.  Chocolate-dipped pretzels, sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles, peppermint bark, homemade fudge… Chocolate chip cookies are a staple at our house during the holidays.  We keep some around in case of a chocolate emergency (Quick! I need a cookie!), or if my Uncle Scott and his family come over.  Uncle Scott loves my Mom’s cookies; they taste terrific and are guaranteed to be nut-free.

Uncle Scott is one of nearly 7 million Americans that suffer from a true food allergy, and one of 3 million who are allergic to peanuts and treat nuts.
While many people often have gas, bloating or another unpleasant reaction to something they eat, this is not an allergic response, it’s considered a food intolerance.
In people suffering from food allergies, some foods can cause severe illness and, in some cases, a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) that can constrict airways in the lungs, severely lower blood pressure, and cause suffocation by the swelling of the tongue or throat.

The most common foods to cause allergies in adults are shrimp, lobster, crab, and other shellfish; walnuts and other tree nuts; fish; and eggs.  In children, eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat are the main culprits. Children typically outgrow their allergies to milk, egg, soy and wheat, while allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shrimp usually are not outgrown.

Uncle Scott is allergic to tree nuts, so he is extra careful to avoid certain homemade Christmas treats that typically have nuts in them.  He also has the lucky ability to tell if something has nuts in it within the first few seconds he puts it in his mouth, which allows more time to get the Benadryl.  Not everyone is so lucky, many don’t know if the food was contaminated with allergens until their throat starts to close up or they break out into hives.

If you or someone you know suffers from food allergies, there are a few different steps you can take to help them enjoy the holidays worry-free.  First, knowing what allergen to avoid allows a host/hostess to prepare a special side dish or treat for the allergic individual so be sure to let your host know of any allergies.  Cross-contamination must be taken into account when preparing the allergen-free dish.  Preparation surfaces and tools should be cleaned thoroughly to remove germs and also any trace of the allergen.  For example, it’s not a good idea to prepare sugar cookie dough in the same place that walnut cookie dough was prepared.  It often doesn’t take much of the allergen to affect an individual.

Enjoy those holiday treats, just prepare them safely and make sure allergic individuals are aware of the contents.  For some food-allergy-friendly recipes, you can visit the websites below:
Food Allergy-Free Holiday Recipes from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

Food Allergy Recipes and Special Diets from Home Cooking

Halloween Infosheet

Today we released a scary infosheet all about chocolaty treats (that may contain nuts) and Salmonella.

Production was halted at Fox’s Confectionary on October 15, 2007 after traces of Salmonella were found in samples of chocolate. The company believes the outbreak originated from a batch of contaminated Brazil nuts, which are used to make one of the brand’s
best known products, Just Brazils.
Last year, candy giant Cadbury Ltd. recalled about one million chocolate bars in Great Britain because of a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 37.
Hershey Canada and Kraft Foods Inc have also had recent Salmonella-related recalls.
Chocolate is a great Halloween treat and can harbor Salmonella because of its high fat content.
Nuts and almonds have also been shown to carry Salmonella.

Scary stuff.

Check out the infosheet here.

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