How to Read a Label When You Have Food Allergies (Canada)

in Basics, Fish & Shellfish, Food Allergy, Food Allergy Ask the Allergist, Fruit & Vegetable, Inside Food Allergy, Milk & Egg, Other Food Allergy, Peanut & Tree Nut, Soy & Seed
Published: January 6, 2014

This article applies to label-reading in Canada. For the U.S. version, click here.

Whether you’re new to food allergies or have been dealing with them for years, figuring out what is and isn’t in the food you find at the grocery store can be daunting. With all the confusing ingredients on packaged goods labels, how do you know that box of crackers doesn’t have nuts in it, or that can of soup wasn’t made with wheat?

The good news is, in Canada there are regulations that are meant to make reading food labels simpler for people with allergies. But there are exceptions, and so it’s important to know what is covered by the labeling rules, and what isn’t.

The first and most important thing to know, is that Canada’s Food Allergen Labelling Regulations, only apply to what are known as “priority” or major allergens. In Canada there are 11 priority allergens, and they are:

– peanuts
– tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts)
– milk
– eggs
– shellfish (e.g. crab, shrimp) and crustaceans (molluscs)
– fish
– soy
– wheat
– sesame seeds
– mustard
– sulphites (food additive)

If your allergens are included in this list, label-reading will be much easier. Here are some things you’ll need to know.

Priority allergens must be declared on packaged goods sold in the Canada.CA_Containslabel

Watch for priority allergens either in the ingredient list or in a “Contains” statement after the ingredient list.

These allergens must be identified in plain language. For instance, companies can’t use a scientific name for a protein that’s a top allergen, since that might not be clear to the consumer. So “milk” is clearly stated rather than the protein casein, “egg” for albumen, “wheat” for flour and “soy” for lecithin.

– If major allergens are found within other ingredients, such as “natural flavor” or “spice” they must be declared, either in the ingredient list or afterwards, in a “Contains” statement.

Note that precautionary statements, or “May contains” are NOT required, and are not governed by any regulations. They are helpful for identifying food that might be unsafe, but there are things to be aware of. See: What You Need To Know About “May Contains” for more information.

Next: Special Notes; What to do if your Allergen is NOT one of the Top 11