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.