Gav Martell: He’s in the Kitchen


Just How Safe Are Canada's Food Allergen Warnings?

A look at the effectiveness of food allergy labels

For approximately 7% of Canadians, food allergies are no laughing matter. Those with food allergies have immune systems that mistakenly react to proteins in certain foods. Reactions can range from minor skin irritations, to gastro-intestinal issues,  respiratory or cardiovascular problems, and even death. Health Canada has implemented strict rules when it comes to labelling packaged foods with allergen warnings. They have identified 10 substances, known as priority allergens, most frequently associated with food allergies and allergic-type reactions. The priority allergens in Canada are milk, eggs, peanuts, sesame seeds, tree nuts, mustard seeds, soy, sulphites, wheat, and seafood (fish, shellfish, and crustaceans). Packaged food products that contain priority food allergens and gluten sources must include them in the list of ingredients and/or in a statement that begins with "Contains" on their label. But just how accurate are those warnings?

This summer, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) released results of detailed testing they performed on over 300 food products. The study found that 95 per cent of foods typically consumed by children had no detectable levels of undeclared priority allergens and gluten. The samples were tested for undeclared soy, egg, milk, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sesame, and gluten.

A total of 15 samples of pre-packaged foods, including baked goods, cookies, granola bars, and puddings, had detectable levels of undeclared allergens and gluten. The CFIA recalled three products based on their potential risk to consumers.
While it is great that the CFIA is performing these tests to ensure compliance, and the vast majority of children's food products tested negative for undeclared allergens, it can be worrisome to parents who have kids with severe allergies. Obviously the goal is to ensure that those with food allergies can consume packaged foods without worrying about the adverse affect of their unlabelled contents. Five percent is still a huge risk when dealing with the well-being of kids with severe allergies.
Check out this recipe for Nut-Free Basil-Ricotta Pesto Pasta.
From what to do in an emergency, to the questions you need to ask your doctor—it’s everything you need to know about life-threatening allergies