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McDonald's Canada Warns Its Menu Is No Longer Nut-Free

01/17/2017 03:42 EST | Updated 01/17/2017 05:47 EST

TORONTO — McDonald's Canada has started serving its first food containing peanuts or tree nuts not in an individual, sealed package, a move critics say reverses its long-standing position as a safe place for people with food allergies.

The company introduced a Skor McFlurry that contains chopped almonds in the pieces of chocolate bar used to make the frozen treat.

McDonald's said in a statement on its website that this means all of its other products may contain or come in contact with peanuts, tree nuts or other allergens. Prior to this, the company only served individually packaged peanuts and tree nuts.

People with food allergies can have an anaphylactic reaction when they come in contact with a food they can't consume. Anaphylaxis, which may be fatal, can cause hives, swelling of the tongue, breathing troubles, shock and other problems.

mcdonalds canada

McDonald's McCafé sign in Strathmore, Alta. (Photo: Bayne Stanley/The Canadian Press)

McDonald's prior policy made it "kind of a go-to place" for many families that have to accommodate a member's nut allergy when dining out, said Beatrice Povolo, the director of advocacy for Food Allergy Canada, a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of people with food allergies.

Now, it's unclear whether individuals with any food allergies — about 2.5 million Canadians, according to the organization — will be able to eat at the restaurant, she said, because of the company's "overarching statement" that encompasses all other allergens.

That's disappointing, she said, as one of the biggest challenges for this population and their families is accessing safe meal options while dining out.

Jyoti Parmar has two kids with severe food allergies: a 13-year-old son who can't eat peanuts, tree nuts or soy; and a seven-year-old daughter who can't eat dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. She and her husband co-founded the Walk for Andrea, in memory of Andrea Mariano, who died in 2015 after an anaphylactic reaction while eating out during her first year in university.

"They are really upset because that was their go to."

Due to her kids' dietary restrictions, Parmar's family can't eat at McDonald's. But, up until now, Parmar said it's been an option for many other parents she knows who have children with nut allergies.

"They are really upset because that was their go to," she said.

McDonald's said the Skor McFlurry is the first of more products to come that will contain non-packaged peanuts or tree nuts as an ingredient.

The company said in a statement it is informing guests of the change "so they can make an informed decision as to whether or not its Canadian restaurants are still suitable environments for them." It declined to comment further on the issue.

2.5 million Canadians with allergies

Food Allergy Canada is encouraging Canadians with food allergies to tell McDonald's what the new policy means to them and their families.

Povolo said it's important to remember that McDonald's isn't just alienating the 2.5 million Canadians with food allergies, but also their families and friends who are looking for safe options when dining out with them.

There's little empathy for people with food allergies, said Parmar, and it can be easier for companies to serve nut products and not deal with the food allergies that exist.

"And, when McDonald's does it, it's very easy for other companies to just go the same route."

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