Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Monday, July 20, 1998 Published at 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK


Food producers play safe with nuts

Many food manufacturers are playing safe by labelling products with warnings that they contain nuts even when they may be perfectly safe.

Click here for the Watchdog report
An investigation by BBC television's Watchdog Healthcheck programme, to be screened on Monday July 20, found that a range of big brand items which carried warning labels did not have any nut content at all.

Manufacturers have taken an overly cautious approach to avoid the possibility of litigation should a sufferer from nut allergy fall ill after eating one of their products.

There is concern that failure to identify a potentially harmful ingredient could lead to successful lawsuits.

Product testing

Watchdog Healthcheck sent five products carrying nut warnings for analysis:

  • Kellogg's Frosties
  • Mars Ice Cream
  • Cadbury's Double Decker
  • Marks and Spencer Syrup Sponge Pudding
  • Tesco Stuck in the Mud Pudding

It is impossible to test for all types of nut but none of the products contained any trace of peanut protein, the most likely cause of a severe allergic reaction.

[ image: The products tested by Watchdog Healthcheck]
The products tested by Watchdog Healthcheck
The reason for the manufacturers' caution would seem to be based on the way they operate some food processing equipment with the same machinery being used to produce more than one type of product.

Even though the machinery is thoroughly cleaned between each batch, it is still possible that a few traces of nut may remain from one product to contaminate the next item on the line.

So, although the samples tested by Watchdog Healthcheck were peanut-free, it is possible another batch of items processed on the same machinery could be contaminated.

It is a risk that those with nut allergies must not take.

Kellogg's told the BBC that their quality control was "second to none" and that their procedures went beyond all statutory legal requirements.

But they felt that "due to an extremely small possibility that traces of peanut may enter the product chain, as a responsible manufacturer Kellogg's Frosties carry the label."

Violent reaction

The proportion of children affected by nut allergy has increased dramatically in recent years.

The allergy produces a violent reaction in sufferers when they eat nuts. It is known as anaphylaxis, and can be life threatening.

Sufferers may have difficulty swallowing or breathing because the allergic reaction produces rapid swelling wherever the nut comes into contact with the body.

Other symptoms can include vomiting, cramping stomach pains, diarrhoea, faintness and unconsciousness.

Anaphylactic shock can cause death due to obstruction to breathing or extreme low blood pressure.

The Chief Medical Officer Sir Kenneth Calman last month warned breast-feeding and pregnant women that eating peanuts could lead to their children developing a nut allergy.

The warning was targeted at women who either suffer themselves, or whose partners or other children suffer from common conditions including asthma, eczema, hayfever or other allergies.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes
Relevant Stories

29 Jun 98 | Health
Food allergy clinic opens for mums-to-be

23 Jul 98 | Health
Women can 'pass peanut allergy to their children'

Internet Links

Kelloggs UK

Asthma and Allergy News

Detecting Peanut in Foods

BBC Watchdog Healthcheck

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99