FDA Gets Tough on Whole Foods Over Allergen Recalls

in Food Allergy, Food Allergy News
Published: December 22, 2020
Young woman with face mask using mobile phone and buying groceries in the supermarket during virus pandemic. (Young woman with face mask using mobile phone and buying groceries in the supermarket.
Photo: Getty

Updated Dec. 24, 2020: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent a stern warning letter to the president of Whole Foods Market, slamming the national food retailer for allergen recalls of 32 food products in the past year.

A few examples of the recalled products are: the deli containers of minestrone soup that contained milk not listed on the label’s ingredients; the macaroni and cheese meal kits with undeclared egg; the vegan vanilla cake with unlabeled soy; the raspberry cheesecake gelato with undeclared egg and, most recently, popcorn chicken that “may contain” shellfish (shrimp). The latter recall was prompted after a customer to reported a reaction.

The FDA writes of “a pattern” of Whole Foods selling food products that were misbranded under Section 403 of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act – since they didn’t clearly declare when they contained one or more of the eight U.S. top allergens. Most of the foods were sold in the deli and bakery sections.

The warning, to which Whole Foods must respond in 15 days, indicates the food regulator is getting tougher on recall repeat offenders. “This is the first time the FDA has warned a retailer for engaging in a pattern of receiving and offering for sale misbranded food products containing undeclared allergens,” the agency says in a statement.

Warning the First to a Retailer

In its letter to Whole Foods, the FDA says it has seen similar patterns of numerous recalls for allergens with the national grocer in previous years as well. “These products included a variety of foods sold under the Whole Foods brand primarily in the deli and bakery sections of the store.” 

The agency tells John Mackey, the president and CEO of Whole Foods, that “your response should include the specific things you are doing to address these violations.”

The FDA notes that undeclared food allergens are the leading cause of Class I food recalls for at least the past three years. A Class 1 recall is for products “which could cause serious injury or death.”

Whole Foods Markets, based in Austin, Texas, was purchased by Amazon.com Inc. in 2017. 

In addition to Whole Foods as a national retailer, the FDA says that in 2020 it sent out eight warning letters to manufacturers “reminding them of their responsibilities concerning the labeling or control of allergens.” Those who received letters are:
Frito Lay in December 2020 for due to misbranding of the brand’s “Original Potato Chips” due to misbranding for milk. (The chips inside were actually “Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream”). The FDA says Frito Lay has had five Class 1 recalls for potato chips and allergens in five years.
Etai Food in November 2020 for both unsanitary conditions and lack of allergen cross-contact controls, such as storing nuts above onions and cheese cubes above oranges. The Colorado firm makes ready-to-eat (RTE) products such as salads, sandwiches, burritos and wraps.
Ventura Foods in October 2020 for “garlic sauce” that contained undeclared milk and wheat.
Dole Fresh Vegetables in September 2020 for a HEB brand Tuscan Herb Chopped Salad Kit, due to wheat noodles and a dressing that contained peanut butter and almond, cashew, and chow mein noodle (wheat) toppings.
La Sonorense in September 2020 for bulk packaged wheat flour tortillas that did not contain a label with ingredients and failing to declare wheat as a top allergen.
Bake’N Joy Foods in September 2020 for a recall that followed the discovery of walnut pieces in the firm’s Sienna brand Cranberry Orange Flavored Muffin Batter. The batter’s ingredients do not mention nuts.
Winter Garden Quality Foods in August 2020 for failing to label that milk was an ingredient of Whole Foods brand Vodka Sauce.
Pero Family Farms Food Company in August 2020 for failing to declare the presence of milk and egg in their company’s Zucchini Spiral Pesto Side Dish Kits.