Food allergies


Be alert, be safe

People are much more aware of food allergies and their risks today than ever before. Many schools have careful guidelines about what students can and can't bring in their lunches. Products with allergen-free claims are now commonly found on grocery store shelves. Even with that heightened awareness, people need to be alert to the risks of food allergies for the safety of those with this potentially life-threatening condition.

Fast facts

It is estimated that food allergies affect as many as 6% of young children and 3-4% of adults in westernized countries like Canada.

Did you know...

Visit Health Canada's Food allergies and intolerances webpage to learn more about the Government's policies to enhance food safety for consumers with food allergies or gluten-related disorders such as celiac disease. You can also check out the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's webpage Food allergies and allergen labelling - Information for consumers.

What are the risks and symptoms of food allergies?

Allergic reactions can change very quickly from mild to severe -- in the worst cases causing anaphylactic shock or death. Because an allergic reaction can happen fast and without warning, watch for the following symptomsFootnote 1:

hives, swelling (face, lips, tongue), itching, warmth, redness;
coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, throat tightness, hoarse voice, nasal congestion or hay fever-like symptoms (runny, itchy nose and watery eyes, sneezing), trouble swallowing;
nausea, pain or cramps, vomiting, diarrhea;
paler than normal skin colour/blue skin colour, weak pulse, dizziness or light headedness, loss of consciousness, shock;
anxiety, sense of impending doom, headache, uterine cramps, metallic taste.

The most common allergens in food are:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustaceans and molluscs
  • Soy
  • Wheat and triticale
  • Sulphites
  • Mustard

How to avoid food-based allergic reactions

Right now there is no cure for food allergies: the only way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid the specific foods responsible. Keep in mind that severe allergic reactions aren't predictable. You or your child may have a mild reaction one time and a severe one the next -- or vice versa.

Did you know...

You can sign up to receive Canadian Food Inspection Agency notices whenever there's a food-related recall--by email or RSS.

What's an epinephrine autoinjector?

The emergency treatment for a severe allergic reaction is an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) available in an auto-injector device such as EpiPen®. If you or your child have a known food allergy, make sure to carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times and know how to use it.
If a severe reaction occurs:

  • Administer the epinephrine according to the auto-injector's directions as soon as symptoms appear.
  • Follow up with further treatment and observation in a hospital emergency room.

Did you know...

A food intolerance (such as lactose intolerance) is not a food allergy. It does not involve the immune system and is not life-threatening. Symptoms are likely to originate in the gastrointestinal system and are usually caused by an inability to digest or absorb certain foods or components of those foods. If you are not sure whether you or your child have a food allergy or a food intolerance, seek medical advice.

For more information

Advisories and Warnings

Footnote 1

Source: Anaphylaxis in Schools & Other Settings (hyperlink to

Return to footnote 1 referrer

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