The majority of the ice-cream and sorbet products that was recalled last year over a peanut allergen scare are back on the shelves, Woolworths confirmed.
Peanut allergy is of particular significance to public health because it is one of the most common food allergies. It is a lifelong allergy that can cause severe reactions, and seems to be on the increase in South Africa. Although there are no official South African statistics, it is believed that about 1–2% of people have a peanut allergy, with at least one in 50 children affected.
In October 2015 Woolworths recalled 12 of their ice-cream and sorbet products that were packaged with inconsistent peanut allergen labelling.
"Following the product recall, the majority of the products are back on the shelves with the correct allergen labelling," Woolworths said in an emailed statement in response to a query by Health24.
Two of the products have been dumped, while another two are temporarily out of stock.
Woolworths emphasised that the safety and needs of their customers are paramount.
"We have a continuous drive to launch innovative products that meet customer demand, and consequently introduce a huge number of new lines every year, while also maintaining and upgrading the existing product range in line with customer demand."
It was pointed out that products – both new and old – become redundant from time to time.
"With older products, this is often the result of customer demands and needs changing. With new products, Woolworths sometimes misinterprets customer demands, and products consequently do not meet customer requirements."
Woolworths said that in order to ensure continued profitability, products that do not sell in large enough quantities are terminated and disappear from their shelves.
"While Woolworths takes cognisance of all customer comments, we also need to take into account customers voting for the product through sales.”
At the time of the recall, Woolworths shied away from revealing details to Health24 about the product labelling mishap. Woolworths declined to respond to questions pertaining to the number of units affected. They also did not indicate the number of units they managed to recover.
Health24 later learned that Woolworths did not know exactly how many units were affected, based on their discussions with the National Consumer Commission.
Eating peanuts: when to take action
Dr Claudia Gray, who is a paediatric allergist, and one of only 10 registered allergists in the country, explained in a Health24 article how to handle a situation where someone who has a peanut allergy mistakenly consumes peanuts.
It is important not to panic, she said, pointing out that a trace amount may not trigger any reaction at all.
Dr Gray went on to caution that medication should not be given "just 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 and vomiting, they should be given a dose of antihistamine syrup immediately and have their symptoms watched closely.
"If the person has a more severe reaction like any breathing difficulties, dizziness, weakness or collapse, they should ideally get an adrenaline injection into their thigh muscle as soon as possible, and then be transferred to the nearest hospital for observation. This can be life saving."
Dr Gray recommended that patients who have had a severe reaction to peanuts in the past should wear a medical 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 be given a dose of antihistamine and be taken to the nearest emergency unit as soon as possible, she said.