07/17/2012 07:56 EDT | Updated 09/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Food Allergies? Shopping's About to Get a Lot Easier


Canadian food allergy suffers, have no fear -- better allergen labelling is near! Amendments to the Canadian Food Allergen Labelling Regulations "will come into force on August 4."

Can you hear it? That's the collective sigh of relief from food allergy sufferers and people with gluten intolerances, and/or those who food shop for them.

It is estimated that as many as 1.2 million Canadians (5 to 6 per cent of young children and 3 to 4 per cent of adults) suffer from food allergies. The most common culprits are eggs, milk, peanuts, seafood, sesame, soy, sulphites, tree nuts and wheat. In addition, it is estimated that nearly 1 per cent of the population is affected by celiac disease -- for these people, eating foods with gluten can lead to long-term complications and must be avoided.

Until now, food shopping for allergy sufferers was a sleuthing exercise not unlike searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Did you know there are at least 17 "other" names for eggs, 12 for milk and eight for peanuts that are commonly used in food labels? Wow...

But not anymore!

Effective August 4, all Canadian food labels have to clearly indicate if the product contains one of the most common food allergens or gluten. And even better -- the labels have to disclose common names of the allergen, like milk, eggs, soy, etc.

The common name of the allergen or source of the gluten will be included either in the list of ingredients, or in a statement following the ingredients that the product "contains" the allergen or gluten.

The goal of the new system is to ensure labelling is consistent and understandable to allow Canadians with food allergies or gluten intolerances (or those shopping for them) to make informed food choices. Hallelujah!

And hopefully this will also benefit food manufacturers by eliminating the need for people to "leave it out when in doubt."

Proposed amendments to the allergen labelling regulations first appeared July 2008 and were followed by a period for public comment. The final rule was released in February 2011. Because of the complexity of the changes and the shelf-life of foods, the government gave industry 18 months to implement the new labelling regulations. And on August 4, time is up!

The amendments bring Canada in line with the general approach taken by key trading partners, the U.S., EU and Australia / New Zealand, who have all implemented similar rules requiring the identification of the most common food allergens and gluten by their common names on their labels.