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The Sulphite Section

Sulphites are Cooking Up Trouble

According to Tarlo, the incidence may simply be the result of better diagnosis and awareness. In fact, in the United States, studies show that the number of sulphite reactions has actually declined with improved food labelling and a ban on spraying sulphites on raw fruits and vegetables.

Sulphite sensitivity is sometimes discovered in children but is most often identified in adults, perhaps because it is as adults that we begin to drink wine and beer. As most wines ferment, sulphites occur naturally, and winemakers usually add more of the chemicals to prevent spoiling.

Some organic wineries carefully avoid these additional sulphites, and in the United States, several organic wines have been deemed to fall within sate guidelines of under 10 parts per million of the chemicals. (There area few organic wineries in British Columbia as well.)

But not everyone with file sensitivity has summoned the nerve to try these new vintages. The reactions that GIynnis Brassil gets to sulphites might be clinically described as “mild” when compared to life-threatening food allergies. But don’t tell her that: if she drinks regular wine or eats a food containing sulphites, Brassil develops a migraine so painful that “my hair hurts.”

She does not drink wine at all any more and, to avoid headaches that can last a number of days, the Vancouver computer consultant strives to “eat fresh, fresh food, not preserved, prepared or processed.”

Canadian regulations prohibit sulphites from being added or sprayed on fruit and vegetables that are intended to be consumed raw, with a key exception – grapes.

But sulphites can be    legally added to a wide range of packaged foods, including dried fruit and vegetables, which can have very high levels of sulphites, as well asbaked goods, canned vegetables, soup mixes, jams, pickled foods, potato chips, trail mix, molasses, shrimp, guacamole, and maraschino cherries.

In the United States, packaged food with more than 10 parts per million of sulphites must disclose the presence of sulphites on the label. In Canada the rules are a little different: If sulphites are added to food that is sold in packages, the label must say so.

If you don’t see sulphites on the label, however, that’s no guarantee because there are many exceptions to the rule. For example, the labelling rule does not apply to the ingredients used in a food, such as glucose, which may include sulphites. It does not apply to food prepared locally and sold in vending machines, or to food cooked and sold in a grocery store. Sulphites that occur naturally don’t have to be listed.

In Canada, wine labels do not have to disclose the presence of sulphites (real or added), although proposed federal rules may change that in the coming years.

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