Researchers now estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under 18, or 1 in 13 children. Industry is aligned that allergens need to be taken seriously and responsible manufacturers are careful about labeling when it comes to the eight major allergens.
The problem arises from FDA’s FALCPA guidance document issued in 2006. In this document, FDA included a list of what it considered to be “tree nuts” including coconut (Cocos nucifera) alongside almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.
The two major U.S. allergen advocacy groups, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) do not recognize coconut as a nut.
Moreover, most food allergic people aren’t allergic to coconut. As found in the scientific journal Children, “Despite concerns voiced often by food-allergic patients, allergy to coconut is rare, not directly associated with nut allergy and few cases are reported so far in the literature” (2017; 4:85). A 2010 U.S. study conducted by Children’s Hospital Boston researchers found there was “no significant risk of allergy to coconut in peanut and tree nut allergic children” (Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2010;21(8):1114-8). While coconut is a known allergen, anything can be an allergen, and coconut impacts a small group of people. FDA acknowledged their tree nut list is broad and may even include species that currently have no food use.
The misclassification of coconut as a tree nut causes consumer confusion and, in fact, misleads consumers with tree nut allergies who, in most cases, could safely consume products with coconuts.
Some of the food allergen groups are working on initiatives to clean up some of the misclassifications that are causing the most confusion for food-allergic people. Coconut Coalition of the Americas believes a more accurate listing would be less misleading, more in line with known allergenic patterns, and ultimately could even be safer as some tree nut-sensitive consumers know that coconut is innocuous to them and so have started ignoring the coconut as tree nut label. Stay tuned.
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