Updated 08 June 2017

Ice cream recall: What is Woolworths hiding?

Woolworths has shied away from revealing details to Health24 about a product labelling mishap that could be deadly for allergy sufferers.

Cape Town - Woolworth's recall of ice cream and sorbet products, which were not labelled with the necessary peanut allergen warnings, were distributed countrywide, the retail giant told Health24.

"Woolworths advised customers on Tuesday, 13th October that 12 of our ice-cream and sorbet products have potentially been distributed in packaging with inconsistent peanut allergen labelling," it said.

"We became aware of the problem on Monday 12 October 2015 when our normal product quality assurance process highlighted the issue."

Read: Nuts and food manufacturing safety

Although Woolworths, which is South Africa’s biggest retailer by market value, was quick to act on the error, it is not revealing the quantity of the products being recalled or the area most affected.

"The products are distributed nationally, with different products being available in different regions in different quantities," it said in an emailed response to Health24.

When pushed for a more detailed answer, including what measures have been put in place to avoid something like this from happening in the future, how the slip up happened and if a probe is in place, a Woolworths representative said that the retailer chooses not to comment.

The retailer indicated that it is working with the supplier to resolve the issue, and once the packaging has been corrected, the product will be available in stores again.

We are sorry!

Woolworths also apologised to customers for the error. “Woolworths is committed to providing customers with sufficient and accurate product information to make informed product choices."

It added that a full refund will given upon the return of any of the products without the peanut allergen labelling. Customers wanting further information can contact the Woolworths customer care line 0860 022 002.

The 12 products recalled were: Extremely Creamy Madagascan Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream; 32 Italian kisses; Extremely Creamy Pistachio Dairy Ice Cream; Extremely Creamy Belgian Chocolate Dairy Ice Cream; Slimmers Choice Fruit Sorbet Mini Lollies; 6 mini Almond Solos; 6 mini Vanilla Solos; Mixed Berry Sorbet; Granadilla Sorbet; Mango Sorbet; Hazelnut Dairy Ice Cream; and Lemon sorbet.

Peanut allergy – a public health concern

Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies and seems to be on the increase in South Africa, according to Dr Claudia Gray, who is a paediatric allergist and only one of 10 registered allergists in the country.

"Peanut allergies have increased significantly in many countries over the past 10-20 years and seem to be on the increase in SA as well," she told Health24.

Read: Only 10 registered allergists in SA!

"We don't have exact figures of prevalence in South Africa, but are currently studying it. From results thus far, it seems that in the region of 1-2% of people in SA have a peanut allergy.

"The relatively high prevalence of peanut allergy, together with the fact that peanuts can cause severe reactions, and peanut allergy is often a lifelong allergy, make this an allergy of particular public health significance,"  Gray pointed out.

The allergic reactions to look out for

Gray said the type and severity of reactions to peanuts varies from person to person.

This also depends on factors such as the amount eaten, whether on a full or empty stomach, or whether the person has an illness or is on medications at the time of the reaction.

"Most reactions to peanut occur very soon after intake of the peanut, up till 2 hours afterwards. Rarely, the reaction is delayed beyond 2 hours after intake."

Gray said milder reactions may include itching of the mouth; an itchy rash at the point of contact with the peanut or anywhere on the body; hives; swelling of the eyes, lips or face; and sometimes swelling of the tongue. The patient may have vomiting or diarrhoea and or stomach cramps.

She cautioned that more severe reactions may involve the respiratory system. This includes difficulty breathing; coughing; asthma-like symptoms; or problems with the circulatory system, which may present as shock, collapse or in the most severe cases, cardiac arrest.

"The patient may also feel anxious and restless after eating peanut if they are allergic to it."

Are children more at risk that adults?

Children and adults are equally at risk of peanut allergies, said Gray. "Peanut is one of the allergies that is rarely outgrown in adulthood, and is therefore one of the most common adult allergies."

Gray noted that the dangers of unknowingly eating foods that contain traces of peanuts depend on how severely a person reacts to peanuts and the size of the dose needed to trigger a reaction.

"This will, of course, vary from person to person. For the person who needs quite a lot of peanut before they react, or has milder symptoms, they may not experience a reaction at all to traces of peanut, or they may have a mild itchy mouth or rash.

"For the person who is exquisitely sensitive to peanut, eating even a trace may be a real danger to their health and cause breathing difficulties or even collapse."

Eating peanuts: when to take action

Don't panic as the trace amount may not even trigger a reaction at all, advised Gray.

She warned that medication should not be given "in case of a reaction" if the patient does not have symptoms, as it may cloud the picture and make it difficult to assess whether a person is really reacting or not.

"If the patient experiences mild symptoms such as an itchy mouth, rashes, vomiting, then they should have a dose of antihistamine syrup immediately and watch their symptoms closely.

"If the person has a more severe reaction like any breathing difficulties, dizziness, weakness or collapse then they should ideally get a dose of adrenaline into their thigh muscle as soon as possible, and then be transferred to the nearest hospital for observations. This can be life saving."

For this reason, noted Gray, patients who have had a severe reaction in the past should wear a medic-alert bracelet, and carry an injectable adrenaline pen, such as an Epipen.  

If an Epipen is not immediately available, the person having a severe reaction should have a dose of antihistamine and be transferred to the nearest emergency unit as soon as possible, Gray added.

Also read:

Signs, symptoms and solutions for a wine allergy

Life-threatening allergy attacks

Early exposure may prevent peanut allergies


Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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