Read before you buy
Allergens have always been included in the ingredient lists of prepackaged foods when used as primary ingredients, but sometimes they are exempt when used as components of ingredients. For example, the components of margarine are not required to be declared when margarine is used as an ingredient. Yet the components of margarine could contain allergens such as skim milk powder or soy protein.
Today, allergens must be labelled unless they fall under an exemption and pose no health risk to the public. A food producer that fails to declare allergenic components could be in violation of the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act — and if so, the product could be subject to regulatory measures such as food recall or allergy alert. In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for enforcing these regulations.
What to look for
The following are the most common food allergens:
- Tree nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts
- Sesame seeds
- Wheat (includes kamut, spelt) or triticale
- Seafood, including crustaceans (lobster, shrimp, crab), shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels), and fish (salmon, trout, sole)
Gluten in grains
Gluten is a protein compound in the grains of certain cereals and hybrid crops grown from those cereals:
- Wheat (including spelt and kamut)
Sulphites are preservatives that can cause allergic reactions in some susceptible individuals. Sulphites are added to some processed foods to maintain colour, prolong shelf life and prevent the growth of microorganisms. Sulphites must be declared as an ingredient or component of an ingredient except in situations where regulatory exemptions apply. Even in such situations, sulphites must be shown on the label of the food when their total amount is 10 parts per million or more.
Check out the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Consumer Centre for more information and resources—including an interactive labeling tool and links to alerts.
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