Thursday, January 23, 2014

Natural Almond Flavor and Allergen Labeling

ingredient statement with natural almond flavor
[Emphasis added]
Here is a tricky question regarding the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). "Tree nut" is not defined in the FALCPA, and the term is ambiguous because there are different uses for the term, "nut."  Most people know that peanuts, botanically, are not nuts but rather seeds. Similarly, almonds and pinyon seeds ("pine nuts") are not nuts botanically, but vernacularly they are referred to as nuts. 

On the other hand, annatto seeds are sometimes called nuts, but not routinely like pinyon seeds. FDA does not consider annatto to be a nut, so it is not treated as a major allergen under FALCPA.

Now let's get to the tricky part. Almonds are the seed of a tree closely related to peaches and apricots. For almonds, think of an ancient peach variety that was bred for the seed — the pit — rather than the fleshy fruit. So it is not surprising that peach pits and apricot pits have almond flavor. Consequently, most natural almond flavoring is derived from peach and apricot pits. (Yes the law permits it to be called "natural flavoring" because the flavor naturally occurs in the peach and apricot pits.) 

Under FALCPA if a product has almond-derived almond flavor, then almonds must be listed in the label's allergen statement. However, peach pits and apricot pits are not commonly thought of as tree nuts even though they are similar to almonds in many features and in being closely related. So for most people, the first reaction would be to exclude the peach pit and apricot pit from the allergen statement.

The dilemma arises because those who are allergic to almonds are known to sometimes have a cross-reaction to peach. It seems likely almond allergy could have a cross-reaction to peach pits and apricot pits. Yet, flavoring from peach and apricot pits could be hidden in a generic ingredient listing as "flavorings" or "natural flavorings". 

I asked FDA if it consider peach and apricot pits to be "tree nuts" for purposes of allergen labeling, but have received no response. FDA's interpretation is important because, if not considered tree nuts, then peach and apricot pits may not be listed in the "Contains" allergen statement. 

Nevertheless, the diligent manufacturer would want to inform consumers who might have an allergic reaction to peach or apricot pits. What would you suggest?


Unknown said...

You bring up an excellent point. From my experience in the flavor industry, I don't think bitter almond oil from peach/apricot pits is used much in the US. I believe most flavor manufacturers are using natural benzaldehyde (characterizing component of almond/peach/apricot). Natural benzaldehyde is about 1/5 of the cost of bitter almond oil. I worked for flavor manufacturers who labeled almond flavor with natural benzaldehyde as natural almond flavor type. In EU, US natural benzaldehyde isn't recognized as natural.

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