July 12/Arlington, Va./USDA -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued instructions to its inspection program personnel in an effort to protect vulnerable consumers after an increased number of products have been recalled in the first half of 2011 due to the presence of undeclared allergens or other ingredients. The agency has overseen 27 recalls for undeclared ingredients in the first six months of 2011; 20 are the result of undeclared allergens. In the preceding two years combined, FSIS issued recalls for a total of 32 undeclared allergens.

"This rise is of particular importance to me both as a medical doctor and as a parent, especially as recent reports have shown that the number of children with allergies is on the rise," said Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, under secretary for Food Safety. "FSIS will continue to improve its efforts to ensure that public health and labeling requirements are met."

Under the new instructions, FSIS personnel are charged with making establishments aware of the importance and prevalence of undeclared allergens in meat and poultry products, and how to best ensure labels are kept accurate and current.

In many of these cases, the recalls were a result of a change in product formulation by an establishment or a change in a supplier’s ingredients which had gone unnoticed on their labels. As stated within the notice, the consumption of one of these undeclared allergens could result in an adverse health reaction. Included in the category of allergens are: wheat, Crustacean shellfish (e.g. shrimp, crab, lobster), eggs, fish, peanuts, milk, tree nuts (e.g., almonds, pecans, walnuts) and soybeans.

"I am confident that FSIS inspectors and establishment personnel will take a close look at any changes or variations in their ingredient labeling," said Al Almanza, administrator of FSIS. "This is an important issue, and a good opportunity to evaluate and work on our best practices."

Mislabeling for one of the eight main allergens listed above typically results in a Class I recall because of the associated public health risk.

From the July 13, 2011,Prepared Foods' Daily News.