Cumin products were recalled due to almond contamination prompting allergy concerns

Mahaleb caused false positive results in nuts and spices testing

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

CFIA said there was cross-reactivity of mahaleb with the almond allergen test kit
CFIA said there was cross-reactivity of mahaleb with the almond allergen test kit
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has said initial results which prompted cumin products to be recalled for containing almond were wrong and positive readings were caused by mahaleb.

Products from Nador Inc. were recalled nationally at a retail level on two dates in March (see affected product list here​) as laboratory testing indicated they contained undeclared almond.

However, additional testing has shown the original results were false positives. 

Liquid Chromatography-Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC-MSMS) was the confirmatory test and the false positive results were determined using the Enzyme Linked Immunoassays (ELISA) method.

This was confirmed based on new evidence regarding the cross-reactivity of mahaleb, a spice from a species (Prunus mahaleb​) of cherry seeds, with the almond allergen test kit.

The CFIA said it was ‘highly likely’ the positive sample results for the ground cumin and cumin-containing products were due to mahaleb contamination and not almond.

This means there is no evidence they pose a risk to individuals allergic to almond, added the agency.

False positive or allergen risk?

Bart Ingredients and the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) are awaiting results from the Lab of the Government Chemist (LGC) on the same issue.

The firm said tests results which prompted a recall on its ground cumin could have been caused by mahaleb​.

Bart Ingredients said it has nothing to add at this time.

FSA told us it was aware of the concerns around potential cross-reactivity of mahaleb with analytical methods detecting almond in cumin and it is an issue it has been exploring with the LGC.

It added it has used protein and DNA testing methods to detect almond in spices and has based actions on the best available science.

The majority of recalls in the UK have been for undeclared almond in paprika products and there is no evidence of cross-reactivity from mahaleb in paprika. The one cumin product recalled is being analysed by LGC.

The agency said all recalls in the UK linked to this incident still stand as the evidence presently available to the FSA suggests the affected products remain a potential health risk to people with an allergy to almond.

It is part of a wider issue, which saw Netto recall packs of Aruna Sweet Paprika because it tested positive for almond protein at the end of April.

The 50g pack has a best before date of October 2017. The retailer was told by the manufacturer (Merschbrock-wiese) that industry sampling showed it tested positive for almond protein.

A total of 1000 units had been sold to UK customers but there was no forward distribution to other member states.

Another supermarket, Iceland, recalled some of its Blackened Salmon Portions 260g because paprika was found to be contaminated with almond protein last month.

France, Belgium and Denmark are other countries to have withdrawn products containing undeclared almond because of allergy concerns.

Peanut recalls

Product recalls have also been made due to findings of peanut protein.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said peanut was its main concern and has compiled a list of recalled products​, although the last update was April 1.  

It is advising people who are highly allergic to peanuts to consider avoiding products that contain ground cumin or cumin powder.

The agency said shipping records and test results implicating those shipments means products made before 2014 are unlikely to contain the affected ground cumin.

Belgium also reported traces of peanut (13 mg/kg - ppm) in chili powder from China in April.

The notification, from a company’s own check, came from a sampling date of late March and involved the Netherlands.

Belgium again found traces of peanut (1.71 mg/kg - ppm) in pili pili powder from China in March.

Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, UAE and the UK were also affected by this incident.  

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