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Food Allergies

Canada Makes It The Top 11 Food Allergies

Mustard has taken its place among the top foods of concern for allergies in Canada. Health Canada announced in September that it is adding the seed on its list of “priority allergens”, which also includes peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and sulphites.

The news came as Health Canada outlined some significant changes to regulations governing food allergies, which should become law early next year. The new rules state that these priority allergens must be declared in plain language, and must be listed on an ingredient label, even when they are an ingredient of another ingredient. For example, under current rules, a label could simply say “spice” or “flavouring” instead of clearly specifying that sesame or perhaps mustard is in the product.

The changes follow a Health Canada review of comments that the public, medical professionals, the food industry and other stakeholders put forward about the proposed rules. In addition to mustard becoming the 11thpriority allergen, the consultations led the department to remove allergy exemptions for fining agents and wax coatings.

Originally, a label on standardized alcohol (such as beer, wine, rum, gin and whiskey) was not going to have to state whether fining agents used in production were derived from eggs, milk or fish, three top allergens. Since the review, all alcoholic beverages will have to declare priority allergens that are present. As well, top allergens in wax coatings on pre-packaged vegetables and fruits, which can be made with milk, soy or other allergens and may contain gluten, must be declared. (This doesn’t apply to bulk produce.)

Health Canada also developed criteria with which it can assess new potential priority allergens in the future. “That is important because that now says there’s a standard to follow,” says Marilyn Allen, a food allergy consultant to Health Canada and Anaphylaxis Canada. The criteria say that when evaluating a potential priority allergen, Health Canada will examine the severity of reactions to a food, the data available on the prevalence of allergic reactions to it, as well as the level of exposure to the food in Canada. Staff will also research what other countries are including on their priority allergen lists.

The addition of mustard to the allergy list is a good example of the process. That allergy isn’t particularly widespread, but reactions that have occurred have been severe, and mustard is used in many products in Canada and is easily hidden behind words like “spice,” Allen says.

The move to include mustard on the priority list will help people with mustard allergy and their families identify what foods are safe to eat. “It will make our lives easier in terms of labeling,” says Julie Mototsune. She’s had to avoid everything from soups to potato chips to prepared meats because of her 7-year-old’s mustard allergy.

Health Canada expects the regulations to become final in Spring 2010, at which point food manufacturers will have an implementation period, which is currently set at a year.

HAVE YOUR SAY ON ‘MAY CONTAINS’

Health Canada is starting public consultations into “may contains” statements on packaged food labels. These are the words that manufacturers use on a label to warn consumers that a product could include trace amounts of one or more allergens.

Although these types of statements can be helpful, as it stands, they can be vague and confusing. Consumers are often left wondering if the allergen really is in the product, or if the company is simply reducing risk of liability.

Health Canada hopes to develop policy that will limit the variety of such statements that can be made, and to develop manufacturers’ guidelines for handling allergens and assessing the risk of cross-contamination. Public online consultations and meetings with consumers, industry, health professionals and allergy organizations across the country were set to begin in November. For more information, visit www.hc-sc.gc.ca, “food and nutrition”.

From the Winter 2010 issue of Allergic Living magazine.
To order that issue or to subscribe, click here.

© Copyright AGW Publishing Inc.

See Also: Food Labeling FAQ

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.