Saturday, August 4, 2012

Happy Food Allergen Labelling Day!

Today, August 4th, is the day that new food allergen labelling comes into effect in Canada. Definitely a good reason to post early*. Advocates from across the country and from many allergy advocacy groups have been working to get to this stage for years. So, it's impressive and very welcome.

The question is what does it mean? I can't possibly cover everything, but I will point out a few changes.

First, there are improvements regarding the clarity of what priority allergens are included. "Contains" means that the allergen is an ingredient deliberately used in the product. Statements like "may contain" or "manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts" are considered "precautionary labelling" and are not covered under the new labelling law. If these are included, it is done voluntarily by the company. It's also important to note that labelling laws in Canada are not the same for foods produced elsewhere; so, please continue to use caution when buying imported foods.

Second, the priority allergens contained in food (i.e. seasonings) have to be spelled out. So, if your allergen(s) or intolerance(s) fall within the Big 9, which includes sulphites, gluten and now mustard seeds, you're in luck. For example, for people with egg or soy allergies, you don't have to call the company to find out what type of lecithin is in your product any longer. However, if you have an allergy to garlic or cinnamon, your allergen may still be hidden.

Third, any wine dated from 2012 and onwards is required to list any of the priority allergens on the label. Fining agents (i.e. egg, dairy and fish proteins) are often used in the production of wine; however, not everyone with a shellfish or egg allergy will react. Vintage wines, 2011 and before, will still maintain the same labels. This makes sense of course. It's hard to grandfather this sort of thing and according to Health Canada, no traces of allergen protein were found in a random sampling of 100 bottles of wine which followed "good manufacturing practices"; so, there is no huge risk to the allergic population. However, in cases where these practices are not followed (i.e.: proper filtration), proteins can be found in sufficient quantities to trigger a reaction. According to Health Canada, should proteins not exist in the wine, no labelling is required, even if the allergens were used as fining agents. However, should the proteins be present after filtration, then the new allergen labelling must be applied. Sulphites will also be listed on the label where present.

However, what's true for wine is not true for beer. Beer is considered "standardized" - made up of relatively similar ingredients, no matter the brand or type of beer. However, beer can contain allergens (besides gluten) and sulphites; so, it is still up to the allergic consumer to be careful of what they drink. For a list of some beers which contain allergens, read Elizabeth Goldenberg's 2011 post "Allergic to Beer or Wine?" on her OneSpot blog. What is important to note is that beer labelling is not considered a "done deal"; so, write your MP and the Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq, to let them know you want allergen labelling for beer. 

That is a very brief overview of the new allergen labelling regulations. I encourage you to read up on the new labelling to find out how it impacts you and your family and if you find an error, contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Personally, I will still read all the ingredients, not just the "Contains" section, even though my allergens are all priority ones. It's just another tool I'll use to make sure my foods are safe.

In the end, this is an amazing step forward. Still, we shouldn't stop here. The end goal for the allergic community should be to make sure that no food has hidden ingredients. As consumers, we deserve to know exactly what we're putting into our bodies.

* This post takes the place of next week's Monday post. Regularly scheduled AtopicGirl posts will return on Monday, August 13th.

Food Allergen Labelling - Health Canada 
Vintage Wine and Application of Enhanced Allergen Regulations - Health Canada
Questions and Answers About the New Regulations to Enhance the Labelling of Food Allergens, Gluten and Added Sulphites - Health Canada

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