Understanding Food Labels
One of the most important things you can do is to read food labels — and make a habit of checking ingredients carefully. This will help to prevent reactions to your allergens.
- Read food labels each and every time you buy something. Manufacturers can change their production process and alter their products at any time.
- Do The Triple Check. Read labels:
- Once at the store before buying it.
- Once when you get home and put it away.
- Again before you serve or eat the product.
- If you have questions on whether a product may contain your allergen, contact the company before purchasing the product.
Health Canada Labelling
Health Canada requires food manufacturers to clearly label products if they contain one of the government’s priority allergens: peanut; tree nuts; soy; wheat; egg; milk; seafood (shellfish, fish, and crustaceans); sesame; sulphites; and mustard. All priority allergens must be listed on the ingredient list of pre-packaged food, both domestic and imported.
As of 2012, new rules make labels easier to read. This means that any of the government’s priority allergens are to be clearly labeled on the product. For example, milk must now be labeled “milk” and not “casein”.
Canada encourages (but does not require) manufacturers to use Precautionary Statements such as “May Contain”. These statements are used voluntarily by some companies on pre-packaged food labels where a product may be at risk of unintentionally containing allergens due to cross-contamination with other products. “May Contain” statements are voluntary and added by the individual food company; however, if used they are legally required to be truthful and not misleading. If you are unsure whether a product may contain traces of an allergen, call the company to ask.
Keep in mind when you are travelling outside of Canada that labelling requirements differ from country to country.
Cross-contamination can happen when a small amount of a food allergen gets into another food accidentally, or when it is present in saliva, on a surface or on an object. This small amount of an allergen could cause an allergic reaction.
In food processing, cross-contamination can occur in the production of food. It may happen in a shared facility, through shared production lines or be passed on from suppliers. Since food labelling for “may contain” is voluntary in Canada, manufacturers are not required to state on their label whether a product may be cross-contaminated with an allergen.
If you are unsure about a product, contact the company to discuss whether cross-contamination may be an issue.
To report a product to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, visit the How to Report a Reaction Page.