Research published findings in the Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 66 (10), 2003 points to the presence of undeclared peanut protein in European chocolate imported to North America. Peter Vadas and Boris Perelman from the University of Toronto, Canada, compared chocolate manufactured in North America, Western Europe and Eastern Europe, to establish if the confectionery contained the substance.
The Toronto team tested for the presence of peanut protein in 32 chocolate bars manufactured in North America and in 60 imported from Europe. None of the North American products contained detectable peanut protein, although 19 included precautionary labelling.
The researchers then looked to see if the possible presence of peanut protein was clearly labelled, either as a precautionary note or in the ingredient panel. They found that North American manufacturers attained the highest standards and Eastern Europeans the lowest of those tested. From Western Europe 30.8 per cent, and Eastern Europe 62 per cent of products without precautionary labelling contained detectable levels of peanut protein.
The findings of the research are rather alarming. Peanuts are the most common cause of food induced anaphylactic death. Peanut allergens are stable and potent and capable of inducing anaphylactic reactions at very low concentrations. Because of this, accidental exposure to peanuts is a common cause of anaphylaxis in individuals who are allergic to peanuts - chocolate manufacturers beware.
There are ways of tracking and identifying the presence of peanut proteins in confectionery. UK-based Reading Scientific Services Limited (RSSL)'s molecular biology laboratory for example has developed a new PCR technique for the detection of nuts in foodstuffs. Detection limits are in the range 0.1 - 10 mg nut/kg of sample for peanut, walnut, hazelnut, Brazil nut, almond and macadamia.
The danger of the Toronto study however is the fact that it demonstrates an absence of precautionary labeling. In addition, the non-appearance of peanuts in the ingredient list does not guarantee that chocolate imported from Europe is free of peanut protein. In contrast, North American manufacturers of chocolate seem to have attained a satisfactory level of safety for peanut-allergic consumers.