Mustard - A priority food allergen
Allergic reactions are adverse reactions that occur when the body's immune system overreacts to a particular allergen. These reactions may be caused by food, insect stings, latex, medications and other substances. In Canada, the priority food allergens 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 or triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye grains), and mustard. Sulphites (a food additive), which do not cause true allergic reactions, are generally grouped with the priority allergens because sulphite-sensitive individuals may react to sulphites with allergy-like symptoms.
What are the symptoms of an allergic or allergic-type reaction?
When someone comes in contact with a food allergen or added sulphites the symptoms of an allergic or allergic-type reaction may develop quickly and rapidly progress from mild to severe. The most severe form of an allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. Symptoms can include breathing difficulties, a drop in blood pressure or shock, which may result in loss of consciousness and even death. A person experiencing an allergic reaction may have any combination of the following signs or symptoms:
- Skin: hives, swelling (face, lips, tongue), itching, warmth, redness;
- Respiratory: 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;
- Gastrointestinal: nausea, pain or cramps, vomiting, diarrhea;
- Cardiovascular: paler than normal skin colour/blue skin colour, weak pulse, dizziness or light headedness, loss of consciousness, shock;
- Other: anxiety, sense of impending doom, headache, uterine cramps, metallic taste.
How are severe allergic reactions treated?
Currently there is no cure for food allergies. The only option for managing the risk is to completely avoid the specific allergen. Appropriate emergency treatment for anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) includes an injection of epinephrine, which is available in an auto-injector device. Epinephrine is the only medication that can stop an allergic reaction from progressing and must be administered as soon as symptoms of a severe allergic reaction appear. Antihistamines, if used, should be given AFTER epinephrine has been administered. The injection must be followed by further treatment and observation in a hospital emergency room. If your allergist has diagnosed you with a food allergy and prescribed epinephrine, carry it with you all the time and know how to use it. Follow the advice of your allergist on how to use an auto-injector device.
Frequently asked questions about mustard allergies
I have a mustard allergy. How can I avoid a mustard-related reaction?
- Read food labels.
Avoid all food and products that contain mustard or mustard seed and any product whose label carries a precautionary statement warning that the product might have mustard in it such as “may contain” mustard or similar wording. When provided by a manufacturer, precautionary statements are usually found after the list of ingredients or "Contains" statement if there is one. By December 2021 any precautionary statements will have to appear in this location only.
If mustard or mustard seed is part of the product formulation, it must be declared in the list of ingredients or in a separate “contains” statement immediately following the list of ingredients.
- Avoid any products that do not have an ingredient list.
- Read labels every time you shop. Manufacturers may occasionally change their recipes or use different ingredients for varieties of the same product.
Do I need to avoid canola if I have a mustard allergy?
Mustard belongs to the Brassicaceae family which also includes canola. The name “canola” was derived from “Canadian oil, low (erucic) acid” and refers to the quality of the oil produced from the seed, rather than a specific species. Canola oil can be made using both canola seed (Brassica napus L. and Brassica rapa L.) and canola-quality mustard seed (Brassica juncea (L.) Czern.). Historically, the only product of canola that is commonly used in food is canola oil, which is normally highly refined and which therefore does not contain any appreciable amounts of protein. For this reason, canola oil is not considered to pose a risk for people with mustard allergy. While highly refined canola oils are not considered to pose a risk for people with mustard allergy, cold-pressed canola oil is less refined, can contain residual protein and should be avoided by individuals with mustard allergy.
Do I need to avoid rapeseed oil if I have a mustard allergy?
In some countries, edible oils obtained from the seeds of certain varieties of Brassica napus and Brassica rapa may be sold as rapeseed oil. While highly refined rapeseed oil is not expected to contain any appreciable amounts of protein, cold-pressed rapeseed oil may contain residual protein and therefore should be avoided by those with a mustard allergy.
People with mustard allergy should not eat any food if it contains mustard or canola meal or protein, or if it contains cold-pressed canola/rapeseed oil as an ingredient.
Do I need to avoid other seeds or plants in the Brassicaceae family if I have a mustard allergy?
Mustard belongs to the Brassicaceae family which also includes, for example, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, turnip and canola. Since these plants are closely related to mustard, their seeds contain proteins that are very similar to the proteins in mustard seeds. People with mustard allergy should avoid consuming the seeds and sprouted seeds of other members of the Brassicaceae family as these are more likely to trigger an adverse reaction. If you suspect you may also react to other seeds or plants in the Brassicaceae family, it is important to discuss this with your allergist.
What do I do if I am not sure whether a product contains mustard?
If you have a mustard allergy, do not eat, drink or use the product. Obtain ingredient information from the manufacturer.
Does product size affect the likelihood of an allergic reaction?
Product size does not affect the likelihood of a reaction; however, the same brand of product may be safe to consume for one product size but not another. This is because product formulation may vary between different product sizes of the same product or be produced in a different facility. Always read the ingredient lists carefully.
Examples of foods and products that contain or often contain mustard
- Salad Dressings (vinaigrettes and crudités)
- Spices, flavouring or seasoning
- Ketchup, tomato sauces
- Gravies, Marinades
- Curries, Chutneys
- Pickles and other pickled products
- Vegetables with vinegar
- Dehydrated soups
- Processed Meat (sausages, salami etc.) including hamburgers/steakettes, some fast food products
- Potato salad
Other possible sources of mustard
- Some appetizers
- Dehydrated mashed potatoes
- Some baby/toddler prepackaged food
- Sprouted seeds
Note: This list is not complete and may change. Food and food products purchased from other countries, through mail-order or the Internet, are not always produced using the same manufacturing and labelling standards as in Canada.
What can I do?
Consult your allergist or physician in order to obtain the advice and support needed to help manage your condition. Contact your allergy association for further information.
If you or anyone you know has food allergies and would like to receive information about food being recalled due to improper allergen labelling, sign up for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA) e-mail “Food Recalls and Allergy Alerts” notification service available. When you sign up you will automatically receive timely food recall notifications.
Allergists recommend that if you do not have your auto-injector device with you that you do not eat. If the label indicates that a product “contains” or “may contain” mustard, do not eat it. If you do not recognize an ingredient, if there is no ingredient list available or if you don't understand the language written on the packaging, avoid the product.
Watch out for allergen cross-contamination!
Cross-contamination is the accidental transfer of an ingredient (food allergen) to a product that does not normally have that ingredient in it. Through cross-contamination, a food that should not contain the allergen could become dangerous to eat for those who are allergic.
Cross-contamination can happen:
- during food manufacturing through shared production and packaging equipment;
- at retail through shared equipment, e.g., shelves with multiple condiments, bulk spices;
- during food preparation at home, daycares, schools or in restaurants through equipment, utensils and hands.
What is the Government of Canada doing about priority food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites?
The Government of Canada is committed to providing Canadians with the information they need to make safe and healthy food choices. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada work closely with municipal, provincial and territorial partners and industry to meet this goal.
The CFIA enforces Canada's labelling laws and works with associations, distributors, food manufacturers and importers to ensure complete and appropriate labelling of all foods. The CFIA recommends that food companies establish effective allergen controls to prevent the occurrence of undeclared allergens and cross-contamination. The CFIA has developed guidelines and tools to aid them in developing these controls. When the CFIA becomes aware of a potential hazard associated with a food, such as undeclared allergens, Health Canada is asked to assess the risk. When a serious risk is identified, the food product is recalled from the marketplace and a public warning is issued. The CFIA has also published several advisories to industry and consumers regarding allergens in food.
Health Canada has worked with the medical community, consumer associations, and the food industry to enhance labelling regulations for priority food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites in pre-packaged food sold in Canada. Health Canada has amended the Food and Drug Regulations to require that the most common foods and food ingredients that may cause life-threatening or severe allergic reactions are always clearly identified by their common names on food labels, allowing consumers to easily recognize them and make safe and informed food decisions.
More information on the regulations that enhance the labelling of food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites can be found on the Health Canada website.
If you come across a food that you think is improperly labelled, contact the CFIA and provide information about the product.
Report a food safety or labelling concern.
Where can I get more information?
For more information on:
- food allergies
visit Health Canada's website.
For information on:
- subscribing to the “Food Recalls and Allergy Alerts” e-mail notification service,
visit the CFIA website or call 1-800-442-2342/TTY 1-800-465-7735 (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday to Friday).
For information on this and other Government of Canada programs and services call
- 1-800-O-Canada (1-800-622-6232)
- TTY 1-800-465-7735
Below are some of the organizations that can provide additional allergy information:
- Allergy/Asthma Information Association
- Food Allergy Canada
- Allergies Québec (French only)
- Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (English only)
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