Information for Canadians with Mustard Allergy

February 26, 2016

Summary

Health Canada would like to inform Canadians concerned with mustard allergies that cereal grains, such as wheat, oats or barley, may contain low levels of mustard because of the way these grains are grown, harvested, transported and stored. This cross contamination, or adventitious presence, is not a new issue, but rather has always been present as part of normal agricultural practices. The possibility of this adventitious presence is reflected in Canadian cereal grain quality grading standards. As a result, food products developed from cereal grains may also contain mustard protein.

Health Canada is currently gathering data related to the presence of mustard in cereal grain flours that will allow for the completion of a scientific risk assessment. The scientific risk assessment will be focussed towards enabling the Department to develop and issue specific guidance to food manufacturers related to how the adventitious presence of mustard should be managed from a precautionary labelling perspective, similar to that developed for the adventitious presence of soy (Information for Canadians with Soy Allergy).

Background

Health Canada has become aware of industry concerns regarding the use of precautionary "may contain" statements on flour related to the potential for the adventitious presence of mustard. As the situation regarding the adventitious presence of mustard in cereal grains/flour had not appeared to have changed, food manufacturers raised the question as to whether these statements on flours are required to be carried forward to the labels of products sold at retail which were produced using these flours as ingredients.

While it has generally been accepted practice for precautionary labelling on ingredients to be carried forward to the label of the end products made with those ingredients, there is no regulatory requirement for a manufacturer to do so. For example, if a food manufacturer believes that a retail product containing flour that displayed a precautionary statement for mustard does not pose a risk to a mustard allergic consumer, there is no need for a precautionary statement about mustard to appear on the product's label. Deciding not to carry forward a precautionary statement from an ingredient onto a retail food product is not, in and of itself, a violation of any current labelling regulation, policy or guideline. The decision not to carry forward a precautionary statement should be informed by the manufacturer's knowledge of their overall manufacturing process and in consideration of whether or not the end product poses a potential health risk to an allergic consumer.

It is important to note that to date there have not been any adverse reactions reported in connection with adventitious presence of mustard in cereal grains and/or flours and there have not been any recalls of foods in Canada due to adventitious presence of mustard.

Health Canada will continue to work closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on this issue as the Agency develops additional guidance for inspectors regarding the use of allergen precautionary labelling statements by food manufacturers. For more information on this initiative, please contact the Food Directorate's Bureau of Chemical Safety at bcs-bipc@hc-sc.gc.ca.

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