Unlike other allergens, such as peanuts, worryingly little was known about almonds, said Clare Mills, professor of allergy at the University of Manchester.
Mills’s comments were made after the Food Standards Agency (FSA) last month reported the discovery of cumin and paprika spices contaminated with almonds, as well as in fajita kits sold in the UK.
The FSA and food firms began testing products for almond traces after ground cumin tested positive for almond and peanut in the US although there has yet to be confirmation of any peanut contamination in UK products.
‘Relatively little knowledge’
“It’s a challenge as we have relatively little knowledge of almond allergies [in the UK] because a lot of clinics don’t have the data of people reacting to them,” Mills said.
She put the absence of data down to the lack of research into almond allergies. “It’s viewed as a relatively uncommon allergy in the UK, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance of a severe reaction,” Mills warned.
Because the levels at which most allergic consumers would react to almond contamination was unknown, it was hard to manage the risk, she added. “This makes it harder to have a proper evidence- based approach and work out the urgency of a situation like this.”
Despite almond allergies being considered a low risk in the UK, almond contamination still presented a potentially deadly threat, said Steve Osborn, principal consultant at the Aurora Ceres Partnership and a former business innovations manager at Leatherhead Food Research.
It is not known how products became contaminated with almond, but Osborn said fraud couldn’t be ruled out, given India’s failing cumin crop harvest, which had sent prices soaring to a two-year high. “Almond could quite easily be used to bulk out spices as it has a relatively neutral scent and flavour,” he added