Identifying Allergens Lurking in Food is About to Get Easier

Good news for the estimated three million Canadians suffering from some form of food allergy — Canada’s Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq recently announced the government will be implementing new food labelling laws aimed at helping consumers better understand what’s in their food. The law, which covers hidden allergens, gluten and sulphites, comes into effect in August 2012.

Essentially, the law means you’ll see a list of allergens the food may “contain” (on top of the usual ingredients listing). For example, if a packaged food lists “spices,” any allergens within those spices will now be listed. Even wax coatings used on foods, if containing any potential allergens (like gluten), will need to be declared.

The law also specifies ingredients should be written in a language consumers can understand. For example, spelt and kamut, which are heirloom varieties of wheat — and which may not be readily recognized by the public — will be listed as “wheat.”

I have to say, this is a great step toward protecting sensitive consumers which — let’s face it — is a growing group of people. Too often ingredients that put lives in peril are hidden under “other names” on labels. In some cases, they may not even be listed. The consumer should always be fully informed about what they’re eating, whether they have allergies or not. It’s unfortunate manufacturers need to be forced to inform consumers about what exactly is in their food, but bravo to the Ministry of Health for making this happen.

There are a few exemptions to the rule that should be mentioned. These foods will not be labelled with allergen listings: Bulk foods packaged at bulk food outlets (except mixed nuts); foods from restaurants; vending machines; and meats barbecued, roasted or broiled on retail premises.

Interestingly, beer companies have also been exempted — largely because beer manufacturers have argued such labelling on beer bottles would be costly. They’ve also said anyone sensitive to gluten is well aware of the fact beer has gluten in it (it’s usually made from barley or wheat).

That being said, I can come up with more than one scenario where a conventional beer could be served to a celiac sufferer by an unknowing cook or host (beer batters, Guinness stew or beer-braised ribs come to mind). Not everyone knows beer is made from gluten grains (heck, not everyone knows flour comes from wheat). Perhaps giving the beer companies longer to implement changes would be a better solution than a full-on exemption. Just my opinion.

Nonetheless, I think this new labeling law is a good move for all Canadians. What do you think of it?

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto. Doug specializes in private in-home holistic cooking lessons.

Wondering where food allergies come from and why they’re so dangerous? Learn more with “The Doctors.”

A Quick Review by Editor:

Although I agree that there needs to be better labeling, for allergy purposes, it is definitely detrimental to people who are sensitive to wheat, but who can tolerate spelt, kamut, etc, to just have all of those grains lumped in as ‘wheat’. Maybe they can put ‘wheat’, and then in brackets right after it, write ‘kamut’, or whatever. For people who have the allergies, this information is very important, and maybe if enough people speak out about it, something can be done.