Labelling of Food Products and Alcoholic Beverages
When living with food allergies, reading the labelling of consumer products (packaged foods and/or beverages, including alcohol) is a key factor in minimizing the risk of reactions.
Note : For more information on hidden allergens in other types of products, consult the section Finding Hidden Allergens.
|Dans cette page:
|Identify allergens on food labels >
|The “MAY CONTAIN” statement >
|Tips and tricks >
|Synonyms for allergens >
|Beer Labelling Regulations >
|Regulations on wine labelling >
|Regulations on the spirits labelling >
Identifying allergens on food labels
To avoid contact with the food that triggers a reaction, it is essential to read the labels each time you buy a product, keeping in mind that the list of ingredients may change without notice. It may also be useful to read labels in both languages, as translation errors can occur.
The list of ingredients on food products is usually found near the Nutrition Facts table. It can also be on either side of the package.
Since 2012, Canadian regulations regulations require manufacturers to declare all ingredients, including the nine priority allergens, gluten sources, and sulphites which must be identified using their common name, either:
- On the list of ingredients, e.g. flour (wheat), albumin (egg), vegetable oil, sugar, flavours
- In the “May Contain” statement under the list of ingredients.
Here is an example:
The “MAY CONTAIN” statement
The “May contain” statement is not mandatory by law. It is the only warning that manufacturers can use to indicate the accidental presence of an allergen in their products. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires that such warnings be accurate, clear, and indicate a real risk of cross-contact contamination.
Cross-contact occurs when an allergen not on the list of ingredients is found in a product due to contact with a contaminated surface. The risk of contamination of a food product increases when an allergen is used in the manufacture of another product within the same manufacturing plant and without due precautions being taken to avoid cross-contact.
By law, the words “May contain” must not be used to circumvent good manufacturing practices.
Tips and tricks
- Read the ingredient list from beginning to end every time you buy a product as the ingredient list can change at any time without warning.
- If possible, read the ingredient list in both languages in case of translation errors.
- Avoid buying products or foods that do not have an ingredient list.
- Avoid products sold in bulk as there is a high risk of cross-contact.
Note that non-food products are not subject to the same regulations as food products (e.g. vitamins, hand creams, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, pet food).
Contact the manufacturer’s and speak to the company’s quality control personnel in case of doubt or if the information on the packaging is not accurate. Such employees will provide you with information on production methods.
Labelling requirements do not apply to some products. The following products are exempt from declaring a list of their ingredients according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency:
« (i) Prepackaged products that are packed on retail premises from bulk, other than mixed nuts;
(ii) Prepackaged individual portions of food served with meals or snacks by restaurants, airlines, etc., or prepared by commissaries and sold in mobile canteens or vending machines;
(iii) Prepackaged meat and meat by-products, as well as poultry and poultry meat or poultry by-products that is barbecued, roasted or broiled on the retail premises. [i] »
It should be noted that if the manufacturer of such products decides, despite its exemption, to list the ingredients, it is required that they also comply to it.
Synonyms of allergens
The Labelling Act stipulates that manufacturers of food products must use the common name of the 9 priority allergens, gluten sources as well as sulphites on product labels. Unfortunately, this rule does not apply to all foods that may cause a reaction: it might therefore be handy to have a list of synonyms for the foods you are allergic to (if not priority allergens) when consulting nutrition labels.
This may also be useful when travelling and with regards to homemade products. In addition, other consumer products (hygiene products, medicines, etc.) may contain food items. Please note that their manufacturers are not required to use the common name of the allergens used. Consult our lists of synonyms within each of the files on the 9 priority allergens as well as the, Finding Hidden Allergens section.
Beer labelling regulations
Until recently, food allergen labelling standards did not apply to beer. As of April 12, 2019, amendments were made to the Food and Drug Regulations to better inform consumers about the presence of food allergens, gluten, and sulphites in beer. Beer manufacturers have until December 13, 2022 to comply with the following requirements:
Sources of food allergens, gluten or sulphites in beer must be declared on the label, either in the list of ingredients or in a declaration of sources of food allergens, gluten or sulphite, i.e. in a “Contains” statement.
Beer manufacturers continue to be exempt from the requirement to declare a list of ingredients on their products. If in doubt, and especially until December 13, 2022, it is preferable to check with the manufacturer for the presence of food allergens, gluten or sulphites in the beer you want to purchase.
Regulations on wine labelling
Wine is subject to food allergen labelling regulations. Labels on wine bottles must identify the presence of food allergens when the product may contain significant amounts of them. The same applies to the presence of gluten and sulphites.
The exception to the rule: vintage wines
Wines are called “vintage” when all the grapes have been harvested in the same year. This unique feature allows the product to remain several years before being sold, but makes it difficult to identify allergens and ensure consistent practices.
“Vintage wines” produced before the food allergen labelling regulations of 2012 benefit from an exemption to current standards. Exceptionally, manufacturers do not have to declare the presence of sulphites or other allergens even if they are present in the product.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, when wine producers comply with good manufacturing practices, such as proper filtration, their products should not pose any risk to people living with food allergies, whether or not the wine is vintage. However, it is reasonable to believe that most vintage wines contain sulphites because of the presumed shelf life of these products. If you are sensitive to sulphites, looking at organic wines might facilitate your search, chose those labelled “no added sulphites”.
Regulations on the labelling of spirits
Sources of food allergens, gluten, and added sulphites must be declared on the label when present in quantities equal to or greater than 10 ppm.
This requirement applies to bourbon whisky and standardized alcoholic beverages (rum, vodka, gin, liqueurs, etc.). It also applies to non-standardized alcoholic beverages (cocktails (e.g. mojito), cream liqueurs, ouzo, sake, etc.) [ii].
For more information on allergen declaration on product labelling, consult the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
[i] Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments, Liste d’ingrédients et allergènes https://inspection.canada.ca/food-labels/labelling/industry/list-of-ingredients-and-allergens/eng/1628716222800/1628716311275, consulté le 25 juillet 2019.
[ii] Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments, https://inspection.canada.ca/food-labels/labelling/industry/alcoholic-beverages/eng/1624281662154/1624281662623?chap=16#c4, consulté le 15 juillet 2019