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Living With Anaphylaxis


By Peter Vadas MD, PhD

Practices governing the manufacture of chocolates in Europe differ from those in North America. In Canada and the United States, chocolate products from previous production runs are not recycled. In European manufacturing, however, processed chocolates are often reused in new production runs. If the reused product contains peanuts, this results in an increased likelihood of contamination by peanut protein. In recognizing the increased likelihood of peanut protein contamination in chocolates imported from Europe, we wanted to assess the adequacy of labelling procedures with respect to possible allergenicity.

Using a sensitive test for peanut protein (the same assay as used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa) we tested 46 chocolates randomly purchased from various retail outlets throughout Toronto. We focused especially on those chocolates that did not list peanuts amongst their ingredients. Some of these chocolates contained precautionary warnings (i.e. "may contain traces of peanut") whereas others had no labels to warn consumers suffering from peanut allergy.

We did not detect any peanut protein in chocolates manufactured domestically in North America. Out of 20 products with precautionary labelling, 14 did not contain significant peanut protein but 6 were positive for significant levels of peanut. These products were manufactured in eastern and central Europe in Slovakia, Poland and Germany.

Of 26 products that did not display precautionary labelling, 8 (30%) had detectable peanut protein. All of the chocolate bars containing peanut protein, but lacking precautionary labelling, were manufactured in Europe, namely in Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Russia and the Ukraine.

Peanut allergic consumers rely on the accuracy of labelling in order to guide them in exercising appropriate avoidance measures. When it comes to chocolates manufactured in eastern and central Europe, labelling is inaccurate and unhelpful in many of these products. The absence of precautionary labelling does not preclude the presence of peanut protein in products from this region. Until labelling practices become more stringent for peanut-containing products, peanut allergic consumers are advised to avoid chocolates imported from eastern and central Europe because of the high likelihood of peanut contamination.

Peter Vadas MD, PhD is Director, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Department of Medicine, St. Michael's Hospital.

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