The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled three confectionery products that contained undeclared shea nut in what may be the first allergy recall of its kind.
Although shea nut is technically a seed and not a true nut, it contains proteins like those found in tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts. For this reason, the FDA includes shea nut in the list of tree nuts that must be declared on food labels.
Some in the food industry have argued that shea nut should not be included in the FDA’s tree nut list because it is not commonly eaten in most countries. Additionally, research conducted by the Food Allergy Research and Resource Programme (FARRP) suggests that refined shea nut butter does not pose a known or likely allergy risk to consumers, including those with peanut or tree nut allergies.
FARRP conducted a thorough search of medical literature in August 2016 and found no reported cases of allergy to shea nut or shea nut butter. Furthermore, FARRP’s research indicates that refined shea nut butter does not contain detectable protein residues that can cause allergic reactions. Another US-based team found minimal protein content in shea nut butter, suggesting that any allergy risk from the presence of refined shea nut butter as an ingredient is remote, although not necessarily zero.
Despite these findings, people who are allergic to tree nuts may also be allergic to shea nut, and therefore need to be aware of its presence in foods.
Further details about the product recalls can be found on the FDA website.