Finding Hidden Allergens
Below is a non-exhaustive list of non-food products that may contain priority allergens. When in doubt read labels carefully and contact the manufacturer for additional information. Food labelling regulations do not apply to non-food products, so extra care should be taken to investigate the source of various ingredients.
Please refer to the priority allergen tables for lists of key words to investigate as possible sources of allergens. The priority allergen tables also list possible food sources for each allergen.
Allergy Quebec has also published several articles on hidden sources of allergens. See our News and Updates page.
With the start of school comes new arts and crafts projects. If your allergic child is starting kindergarten, ensure that his or her school supplies are free of food allergens. The following list outlines some possible sources:
- Modelling clay. Many brands of modelling clay including Play-Doh and Tutti-Frutti use wheat flour.
- Finger paint. Wheat can be found in the ingredients of finger paint sold in stores, including Elmer’s brand finger paint.
- Craft materials that may contain or have been in contact with food allergens such as egg or cereal boxes, milk cartons, empty peanut butter containers, and foods used for DIY projects (e.g. pasta, egg shells, etc.).
- Dust-free chalk. A study published in 2013 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology highlighted the possibility that children allergic to milk proteins may develop asthma symptoms when coming into contact with residues produced by dust-free chalk containing casein. Although dust-free chalk is generally casein-free, caution is advised.
Most craft materials sold in stores do not list ingredients on the packaging. It can be difficult to identify the presence of allergens. When it doubt, contact the manufacturer for additional information.
Good to know – Products manufactured by Crayola are generally free of the following food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, nut oil, nut oil, eggs and egg shells, milk, casein, whey, sesame and sesame oil, fish, and shellfish. Be careful! Products licensed but not manufactured by Crayola may contain such products. Always check the packaging to determine the manufacturer of the Crayola products you want to purchase. (Updated 2019)
Oral hygiene products
- Toothpaste. Most toothpaste is safe for people with allergies. However, some may contain casein, a milk protein sometimes referred to as Recaldent® in the list of ingredients. For instance, MI Paste brand products contain casein. They should, therefore, be avoided by people with milk allergy.
- Prophylactic pastes. It is a paste used by dental hygienists at the end of a cleaning to remove surface stains or remaining plaque on teeth. These products sometimes contain gluten.
- Topical anesthetics. Used to freeze certain parts of the mouth before a dentist’s procedure, topical anesthetics sometimes contain flavoring agents (e. g. melon, mint, etc.) that could be problematic for people allergic to them.
If you have food allergies, remember to mention it to your dentist and dental hygienist before each appointment!
Personal hygiene products and cosmetics
Certain personal hygiene products and cosmetics may contain food allergens. Labels should be read carefully before use. Please note that the following list is not exhaustive.
- Body, face and hand soaps may contain soy, milk, wheat, and nuts;
- Shampoos and hair products such as dyes may contain wheat and nuts;
- Make-up may contain sesame oil and wheat.
Shea nuts and butter are used in a large number of soaps, body creams and cosmetics. Shea nut products contain smaller amounts of protein compared to other types of nuts so are considered to have lower allergenic potential. Nevertheless, people with nut allergies should always be cautious about eating or using shea nuts or butter.
It may be advisable to consult the list of products recognized by the Canadian Dermatology Association’s Skin Health Program (PSP). These skin care products are unscented, have a low risk of irritation, and do not contain any of the most common allergens.
Some sunscreens contain potentially risky ingredients for people with allergies.
- In case of allergy to tree nuts, for example, beware of the presence of almond and argan oil contained in some products.
- Arachidyl alcohol and arachidyl glucoside are ingredients which pose a risk to individuals with peanut allergy, as they may be derived peanut or peanut oil extracts.
- Ingredients and their sources can vary from one product production to another. This makes the allergenic potential of a product fluctuate.
- There are also natural products that are used for sun protection. These products should be used with caution, as they may contain soy.
Drugs and medication
Active ingredients and excipients or non-medicinal ingredients
Drugs are composed of active ingredients and excipients or non-medicinal ingredients. Active ingredients do not contain food allergens.Some excipients or non-medicinal ingredients in drugs are food-based and may contain allergens such as peanut or sesame oil.
Lactose, a milk sugar, is used as an excipient in some medications. It is usually considered safe in cases of milk allergy, as the trigger, cow’s milk protein, is not present. There is a risk, however, of cross-contact during the manufacturing process, so caution is advised. Contact the drug manufacturer to ensure the product is safe.
Contraceptive pills are among the medications that may contain lactose. If you are allergic to milk, consult your doctor about safe contraceptive methods for you. Your pharmacist can contact the company that markets your medication to enquire about possible risks.
Non-prescription drugs and supplements
When purchasing a prescription drug, the pharmacist ensures that the product is safe for you by enquiring about your allergies. When purchasing over-the-counter medications or natural products, it is equally important to take precautions.
In most cases, it is possible to identify the presence or absence of food allergens in an over-the-counter medication by reading the label and ingredient list. Be mindful though: the list of ingredients in a product may vary depending on the flavor and format chosen.
Though some antacids can contain allergens, at the time this page was written (July 2019), Tums® antacids did not contain any food allergens in the list of ingredients, with the exception of Tums® Smoothies® with tropical fruit flavours and fruity fusion (which contain soy) and Tums® Chewy® (which contain milk and soy).
It is also crucial to read the list of ingredients when purchasing probiotics, as some manufacturers use milk or soy-based culture media to culture probiotic bacteria. Traces of allergens may be present in the finished product.
At the time of publication (November 2019), Probaclac® brand probiotics are all certified allergen-free and are therefore safe for people with allergies.
Special attention should also be paid when purchasing nutritional supplements.
While most calcium tablets are free of allergens, some should be avoided. This is particularly the case for Caltrate® brand chew squares containing milk and soy (July 2019 data). The same applies to multivitamins, especially those used for eye health (e.g., Adult Ocuvite® containing fish oil and soybeans).
As of July 2019, Rhinaris® Nozoil® nasal spray is made using sesame oil and should be avoided by people allergic to sesame.
Natural Health Products
To be sold in Canada, natural health products must obtain a product licence from Health Canada. All natural products that have been evaluated and approved by the regulatory agency are assigned an 8-digit NPN (Natural Product Number). This NPN, which appears on the product label, is your first guarantee that the list of medicinal and non-medicinal ingredients is accurate, but also that the claims and warnings on it are supported. Always make sure that the product you want to purchase has an NPN.
With respect to the possible presence of food allergens in natural health products, pay particular attention to glucosamine (crustaceans), omega-3 supplements (fish oil), fish oil capsules, and products specifically indicated for the relief of menopausal symptoms (soy).
It is necessary to check the label and ingredient list of drugs and natural health products before purchasing them. When is doubt, consult your pharmacist or contact the manufacturer.
Other non-food products that may contain allergens
- Animal feed may contain fish, crustaceans, wheat, nuts, peanuts, etc.
- Gardening products may contain crustaceans and fish (in French).
American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Milk and dairy allergy. http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/milk-dairy-allergy (consulté le 5 juin 2019)
Santé Canada, L’étiquetage des cosmétiques – directive , https://www.canada.ca/fr/sante-canada/services/securite-produits-consommation/rapports-publications/industrie-professionnels/etiquetage-cosmetiques.html#eight, consulté le 19 juillet 2019.