Food

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The FDA Just Warned Whole Foods Over Its Food Allergen Labeling

The grocery retailer has reportedly recalled more than 30 products in the last year due to undeclared allergens.

In an effort to address one of the leading causes of food recalls in the United States, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned Whole Foods about not labeling allergens in some food products. In a letter made public Tuesday, the FDA accused Whole Foods of engaging in a "pattern" of product recalls stemming from undeclared allergens. Failure to address the issues behind the mislabeling would result in enforcement action, the FDA warned.

"Your corporation engaged in a pattern of receiving and offering for sale misbranded food products," the FDA said in a letter to Whole Foods dated Dec. 16. "For the time period of October 2019 to November 2020, your firm recalled 32 food products due to undeclared allergen(s). We noticed similar patterns of numerous recalls for undeclared allergens in previous years as well." Romer has reached out to Whole Foods for comment.

According to the FDA, undeclared allergens remain the leading cause of food recalls in the United States. They're also a violation of FDA rules, which require all food product labels to include declarations of all major food allergens present or potentially present in the product. Examples of products Whole Foods had failed to properly label included Whole Foods Market Minestrone Soup, which was recalled earlier this year due to undeclared milk; Whole Foods Market Raspberry Cheesecake Italian Gelato, which was recalled late last year due to undeclared egg; Whole Foods Market White Parkerhouse Rolls, which was recalled last year due to undeclared milk and eggs; and Chantilly Key Lime Tartlets, which were recalled earlier this year due to undeclared almonds.

"You are responsible for investigating and determining the causes of the violations identified above and for preventing their recurrence or the occurrence of other violations," the FDA warned in its letter. "It is your responsibility to ensure your firm complies with all requirements of federal law and implementing regulations."

Romper reached out to Whole Foods and received the following reply via email from a Whole Foods spokesperson:

"Whole Foods Market takes food safety very seriously. We are working closely with the FDA to ensure all practices and procedures in our stores meet if not exceed food safety requirements. We remain committed to maintaining the highest quality standards in the industry.”

Food allergies aren't just a recall issue — they're a growing safety and public health issue too. According to the CDC, an estimated 8% of children, or 1 in 13 children, have food allergies. And while allergic reactions differ from individual to individual, some can include anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction. Because food allergies cannot be cured, most individuals with them must rely on a strict policy of avoiding the food they are allergic to. As a result, mislabeled food products, such as a Key Lime Tartlet with undeclared almonds, can have severe repercussions for those will food allergies.

In their warning letter, the FDA gave Whole Foods 15 days to alert the federal agency to the specific things it was doing to address its undeclared allergens violations and prevent future food products from being sold under labels that failed to accurately declare all allergens in the product. "Failure to promptly correct these violations may result in enforcement action by FDA without further notice, including seizure and/or injunction," the FDA cautioned.