A new powdered peanut product is the first food item allowed to claim it may reduce peanut allergies in infants, though parents of susceptible babies are urged to consult a doctor before trying it. The product, called Hello, Peanut, can be mixed into puréed baby food to expose infants to peanuts starting around 5 months old.
The Food and Drug Administration allowed the new item, developed by a physician, to make the claim just months after the nation’s top allergy experts reversed long-standing advice on preventing peanut allergies, dropping recommendations to withhold all peanut-containing foods in early childhood in favor of early, frequent exposure, starting with peanut powder or extract for infants beginning to eat solid food. The label warns that evidence is limited.
While many foods like whole grains, nuts and supplements carry qualified health claims stating that they may reduce the risk of diseases like cancer or heart disease, this is the first time a food product label will be allowed to make a qualified claim that it reduces the risk of an allergy, officials said. A qualified claim means there is evidence supporting the claim, but it is not conclusive.
“This is a very important claim for us to allow to be incorporated into food labels,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “The guidelines for how to approach allergens in children are changing, the science is changing, and it’s important for parents to know.”
The product consists of packets of organic peanut and sprouted oat blends in powdered form that can be mixed into baby food starting at 5 months, or soon after an infant starts eating solids. It is meant to be phased in with an introduction kit of seven packets that increases the amount of peanut content every day for a week, starting with a packet for day one that contains 200 milligrams of peanut powder, which is less than a single peanut, and gradually increasing by day seven to 2 grams of peanut, the equivalent of three to seven peanuts. If a baby develops a reaction, such as flushing or hives, parents should stop feeding the child and contact their pediatrician; they should not continue the regimen.
That system can be followed by “maintenance” packets that continue with 2 grams of peanut powder, to be used until a toddler can eat peanut butter or is old enough to chew and swallow peanuts without choking. Studies indicate that regular consumption of peanuts is necessary to maintain the food tolerance.
Dr. David Erstein, who founded the company that makes Hello, Peanut, said he hoped the limited health claim on the package will both raise awareness and increase parents’ comfort level with the new recommendations.
“There are still a lot of skeptics and anxious parents who are nervous,” he said.
And though the research studies concentrated on high-risk kids, he said, “we think this should be helpful for the general population.”