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Quorn’s “Mycoprotein” Linked to Severe Allergic Reactions, Gastrointestinal Symptoms in New Report

CSPI Researchers Analyzed Self-Reports of Adverse Reactions to the Mold-Based Meat Substitute

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Is a vat-grown meat substitute made from fungus making people sick?

According to research published today in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology by researchers from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, mycoprotein—the fungus-derived substance that forms the basis of Quorn-brand meat substitutes—appears to cause sometimes life-threatening allergic and gastrointestinal reactions.

Quorn’s frozen products typically take the shape of “chik’n” cutlets, strips, and patties; ground-beef-like “grounds,” meatballs, and burgers; and products like a cylindrical “turk’y” roast.  In 2002, alarmed by an early company study submitted to the Food and Drug Administration demonstrating adverse reactions to Quorn, as well as by independent research, CSPI began collecting adverse-reaction reports from affected consumers via the Internet and other means.  Of 1,752 such reports analyzed for the study, 312 reported allergic reactions, including hives, itching, and difficulty breathing or swelling of the throat, tongue, mouth, or lips.  Ninety-two, or 29.5 percent, of those people reported seeking medical attention.  A total of 1,692 people reported gastrointestinal reactions, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or cramping.  Some suffered both allergic and gastro-intestinal reactions. 

An 11-year-old boy with a history of mold allergy and asthma, Miles Bengco of California, died after a Quorn Turk’y Burger allegedly triggered an asthma attack, according to the paper.

Of 1,752 such reports analyzed for the study, 312 reported allergic reactions, including hives, itching, and difficulty breathing or swelling of the throat, tongue, mouth, or lips.  Ninety-two, or 29.5 percent, of those people reported seeking medical attention.  

One individual said in a report to CSPI, “My hands itched, my body was bright red, my lips and throat swelled, and by the time I got to the emergency room (only 10 minutes later), I was blacking out because I couldn’t breathe.”  Many others described suffering uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea.

“Physicians, health departments, and lay allergy organizations should be aware of this possibly under-recognized mycoprotein-associated cause of adverse reactions,” wrote Michael F. Jacobson, co-author of the paper and CSPI co-founder and senior scientist, and former CSPI research associate Janna DePorter. 

CSPI brought its concerns about Quorn to the FDA in 2002 and several additional times, but the agency declined to take regulatory action.  Early Quorn marketing described the product as a “small, unassuming member of the mushroom family,” and as related to “mushrooms, morels, and truffles,” even though the mold that is processed into mycoprotein is a quite distant relative of those edible fungi.  The company has dropped the mushroom references on Quorn packages and labels, and in 2017, as part of a legal settlement, agreed to a package warning that “Mycoprotein is a mold (member of the fungi family).  There have been rare cases of allergic reactions to products that contain mycoprotein.”

“Health officials should consider whether this unnecessary cause of severe adverse reactions should be permitted in the food supply,” according to the paper.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).