Allergy sufferers still have to watch ingredients in food

Health Canada is now requiring companies to clearly label when their food products contain an allergen. But allergy activists say the result may not be that clear.

Under those rules, which came into effect on Aug. 4, previously “hidden” food allergens now must be shown on food labels using plain language.

For example, foods including “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” are now identified as soy in the ingredient list or in a separate bold lettered statement.

However, the labels still won’t mention what ingredients those foods may have come into contact with through the factory process, contaminating them for those with severe allergies.New product regulations require companies to detail allergens in plain language on their products.

Photo by Kaity Brown

“You really do need to look behind those ‘contains’ labelling or behind the ingredients list and check further,” said Elizabeth Goldenberg, author of the Ontario-based Onespot Allergy Blog and the mother of a son with a life threatening allergy to peanuts.

An allergic reaction can also be triggered by cross-contaminated food, creating a problem for those with serious allergies and anaphylaxis.

Goldenberg explains that just because an allergen isn’t in the ingredients list or the new ‘contains’ statement that does not mean it’s clean. Additional research should be done, such as calling the company about potential trace amounts of allergens – which aren’t required to be on that list or in that statement.

In response to that criticism, Health Canada representative Christelle Legault confirmed in an email that the regulation does not require the declaration of potential allergens resulting from the factory process.

“Allergic consumers are used to checking the ingredient list of foods for ingredients that could trigger an allergy. We have made this process simpler by ensuring that allergens are declared using the common name for the ingredient, so that Canadians can more easily identify when an allergen is part of a pre-packaged food,” she wrote.

Timeline of Food Labeling (PDF) Rory Hornstein, a local nutritionist who specializes in celiac disease and gluten intolerance, states this new regulation was “much needed for those focused on eating gluten free due to celiacs.”

She understands how those with allergies still can’t take any chances – despite the improved labels.

“I would still be doing my research and calling companies to ensure they are safe products,” said Hornstein.

Goldenberg said, “it’s not safe. Even if they were going to get penalized for not doing it. You can’t rely on them to disclose all their allergens without reading through the ingredients yourself. Not when it can make you that sick.”

kbrown@cjournal.ca 

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