How the Pandemic Has Impacted Allergen Labeling
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been much more far-reaching than the physical effects of the virus. One of these impacts has been the significant increase in the online purchasing of a vast array of goods, including foods. While this was simply a convenience for many, it all too often became a roll of the dice related to health risks for those with food allergies.
Because the online information for a food does not always provide an accurate or complete description of the ingredients in the food, the 2.3 million Canadians with food allergies are left to make risky, uninformed decisions on their purchases.
In fact, throughout the pandemic, Food Allergy Canada received calls and emails from consumers who found inconsistencies with the ingredient information provided online versus what is declared on the label of the actual product. And this is only expected to worsen as e-commerce continues to grow. Because of this, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is working with Health Canada, along with other government departments and international parties, to better understand current online labelling issues and find possible solutions.
While such discussion and research will inevitably be beneficial to those with food allergies, the onus really comes down to the food manufacturers, and any others who are labeling foods, to ensure that all priority allergens and glutens are properly declared on the label – and that the label, or a replication of the ingredient list, is available and visible online.
It also is critical that food companies understand Canada’s allergen labeling requirements. Following is a brief overview.
- All priority allergens – eggs, milk, mustard, peanuts, crustaceans and molluscs, fish, sesame seeds, soy, sulphites, tree nuts, wheat and triticale – glutens and added sulfites must be clearly declared on food labels when present as ingredients or components of ingredients.
- They may be:
- Included in the ingredient list immediately after the ingredient or component to which it applies, in lower case letters, and separated by a comma from any other source of a food allergen or gluten that is shown for the same ingredient or component.
- Listed immediately after the word “Contains” (“Contient” in French) in bold type. Appear on the same continuous surface as the ingredients list (i.e., same color background, within any border or lines)
- If a “May Contain” precautionary declaration is to be used, it must appear immediately after the “Contains” statement, or in its place if there is not “Contains” statement, in the same font size as the ingredients list.
In addition to understanding Canada’s allergen regulations, all food providers should ensure they are aware of the related regulations – and updates – of any country to which their food may be exported. For example, did you know that the U.S. has updated its allergen list for the first time since the FALCPA named its “Big 8” allergens in 2006? In late April, sesame was added to the list, so that food labels must “clearly declare sesame in the ingredient list, when it is used as a ‘flavoring’ or ‘spice’ or when the common or usual name (such as tahini) does not specify sesame.”
With more than 170 foods that can cause reactions in some people, allergen declarations and requirements vary from country to country, and it is critical that food producers know the allergen lists of each country to which they export – and from which they import – and understand what the regulation requires.
Whether selling your products in-store or online, understanding and accommodating the needs of food-allergic and immunocompromised customers is essential to the continuity of your business, customer loyalty, and brand protection.