Health Canada completes allergen labeling review

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Asthma, Food allergy

Health Canada has completed a review of the country’s allergen labeling system and has said it will begin public consultations in November for mandatory labeling regulations.

Established in 1994, the current Canadian system for labeling allergens in packaged foods has only ever applied on a voluntary basis and no specific on-pack wording has been established for those manufacturers and importers that do choose to include precautionary allergen labeling. The only guidelines are that the wording is “truthful, clear and non-ambiguous”,​ and that an allergen warning should not be a substitute for good manufacturing practices.

This latest regulation review covers allergens that may inadvertently be in foods, rather than those that are intentionally put into a product, covering peanuts, eggs, milk, tree nuts, wheat, soy, sesame seeds, seafood, sulfites, and mustard.

Following a two-year review, Health Canada has now made recommendations which include limiting the number of acceptable on-pack statements; supporting the development of guidelines for good manufacturing practices; supporting the development of standardized risk assessments for potential cross-contamination; implementing a voluntary education program for consumers; and supporting the development of guidelines on how to document and store allergen risk assessments on-site.

Consultation process

The government department has said that it is committed to consulting with the food industry, food allergy consumer groups and the Canadian public about precautionary allergen labeling before any regulation is made mandatory. The consultation process will take part via a web consultation, which will be open for public comment for 90 days once online, as well as regional workshops in November and December 2009.

Health Canada has already called on industry to take proactive steps to improve the labeling of food allergens and gluten sources until the proposed regulatory amendments are enacted.

The department has said it intends the regulations to be published in spring 2010.

Health Canada began its review process in 2007, to try and “minimize risk and maximize choice” ​for the estimated two million Canadians that have some kind of food allergy or sensitivity, including sensitivity to sulfites, and celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, the protein in wheat, rye, barley and spelt.

More information on the consultation can be found here.

Related topics: Regulation, Food safety and labeling

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