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Food Allergy Basics

Food Allergy Labeling: Mustard On List and New Rules

Mustard has joined the ranks of the peanut, tree nut, shellfish and others and is now considered a priority allergen in Canada.

Health Canada announced last week that it is amending its new and pending food allergen labeling regulations to include mustard on the list of foods that must be declared in plain language, and must be listed on an ingredient label, even when it’s an ingredient of another ingredient.

As it stands, a company could simply list ‘spice’ or ‘flavouring’ without specifying that mustard is present.

The news is welcome relief for Julie Mototsune, whose 7-year -old son Mark has multiple food allergies, including mustard. “It will make our life easier,” says Mototsune, who has had to put everything from prepared meats to soups to potato chips back on the shelf, because of the word ‘spices’.

Mustard is the only new allergen on the priority list, becoming the eleventh such food (and food additive in the case of sulphites).

Health Canada had also considered onions and garlic, but when officials reviewed the evidence they found people mostly suffered from intolerance or mild allergy to those foods, rather than anaphylaxis, says food allergy consultant Marilyn Allen. While mustard allergy isn’t necessarily widespread, the reactions reported to Health Canada were severe.

Also, “mustard is widely used, it’s widely grown in Canada, it’s a staple spice or flavouring used in manufacturing and in many incidences, can be hidden,” says Allen. Health Canada has also developed new criteria by which new foods can be assessed and potentially added to the priority list in the future.

Alcohol Exemption Lifted

In the proposed regulations, wax coating on pre-packaged produce, which is sometimes made with milk, soy or other allergens, was exempted.

Health Canada has removed this exemption, as well as an exemption on fining agents used in standardized alcoholic beverages (for example, beer, wine, rum, whiskey, and gin). Now all alcoholic beverages will have to declare priority allergens if they are present.

The regulations, which apply to food allergens, gluten and sulphites, are expected to become final in spring of 2010, after which companies will have a transition period (currently set at a year, but subject to change) before all labels must adhere to these regulations.

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