Traces of nuts found in paprika used by a catering company have led to the recall of certain products from supermarket shelves.
Finding traces of nuts in bottles of spice or spice mixes may sound like a problem for a few picky eaters - but according to food safety experts, a recent batch of contaminated spice has the potential to be the new horsemeat scandal. And while eating horsemeat had no health implications, for anyone with a nut allergy this spice scare could have lethal consequences.
In the past few weeks, paprika used by a catering company, and sold in UK supermarkets, has been found to have undeclared traces of almond protein - at levels high enough to trigger fatal reactions.
Santa Maria, which supplies products to Tesco, has found traces of the protein in the paprika batches it uses, while the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued an allergy alert for Morrisons Fajita Meal Kit, Aldi Fiesta brand Fajita Dinner Kit and a batch of Discovery Taco Seasoning. On 31 January a batch of Bart's ground cumin was recalled because it too was found to be contaminated. In Europe, news reports say dozens more products have been recalled.
The FSA started testing spices after peanut proteins were found in mixes containing cumin. So far the agency has tested hundreds of products and are asking the food industry to test more to try and catch any contaminated batches.
The levels of almond protein found in these products are low, and no one is known to have had a reaction to them. But people with nut allergies are being advised against eating them.
Chris Elliott, from Queen's University in Belfast, who led the government's inquiry into the horsemeat scandal, says spices are particularly susceptible to contamination "because they come from parts of the world where the supply chain is not as heavily regulated" as in the UK.
He points out the biggest food recall in history occurred after chillis were found to be contaminated with the Sudan 1 food dye in 2005 - which was linked to an increased risk of cancer.
It's unclear whether the spices in this recent recall have been deliberately contaminated or if poor management of the supply chain is to blame. Professor Elliott says 2014 saw the failure of the cumin crop, "causing demand to outstrip supply" - so it is possible the spices were cut with ground almond or peanut shells.
Top Photo: What's in that spice? Undeclared traces of almond protein have been found in some paprika. Photograph: Tuna Tirkaz/Getty Images