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Labels to Show Top Allergens

New regulations governing food labeling of allergens in Canada have been oft-delayed, but Health Canada finally has good news on that file.

The department has announced interim guidelines to food manufacturers that end exemptions for undeclared, “hidden ingredients” in packaged foods. So when a seasoning, flour or margarine is an ingredient of a packaged food’s ingredients and contains a priority allergen – that allergen will now need to be named on the label. Similarly, previously vague ingredients such as “hydrolyzed protein” or “natural flavour” will now have to specify if they contain top allergens. (The priority allergens are: peanut, tree nut, milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, sesame and sulphites.)

Samuel Benrejeb Godefroy, director of the bureau of chemical safety for Health Canada’s Food Directorate, announced the interim guidelines at the Governors’ Foundation’s International Conference on Food Allergies in Montreal in early November. “There shouldn’t be any hidden sources of priority allergens,” he later told Allergic Living. “If somebody puts an ingredient label on a food, it had better be accurate for priority allergens.” Benrejeb Godefroy sees the interim guidelines as an effective tool: “We don’t want to be managing by recalls. What we want is to create predictability in the system.”

Health Canada is also working to update its policy on “may contain” statements on packages, which have become ubiquitous, varied and confusing to consumers. For one much anticipated change – the issue of spelling out priority allergens in plain English or French (e.g. “milk” rather than “casein”) – consumers will still have to wait for the new regulations.

First published in Allergic Living magazine, Winter 2007-08
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