Newly diagnosed with a food allergy? Label reading can feel tricky! In addition to always having your EpiPen auto-injector available at all times, reading food labels are a key component to managing food allergies!

Let me walk you through the steps of reading through a food label and help you identify and avoid your allergen.

This post was developed in partnership with EpiPen®. All opinions are more own.

I was diagnosed with a peanut allergy when I was 4 years old – so I have done a lot of label reading in the past! My fiancé  and friends will also label read products that they are provide to me and around me. They have found label reading for allergens to be not very straight-forward, as they are often left still questioning if the product does in fact have peanuts in it.

As we are cooking more during these challenging times, label reading for identifying allergens is that must more important! Let me walk you through this guide for how to identify common food allergens on a label. Health Canada guidelines were referenced for the below statements.

1. Look at Front Of Pack Statements. Companies may use “free from” statements such as “peanut free” or “milk free”. However, you still need to carefully read the ingredients list and look for precautionary statements, even if these statements are present (1).

2. Read The Ingredients Label From Start to Finish. Food companies do not have to make allergens stand out in any way (e.g. bolding, italicizing, or underlining the print)(1). As well, even if you have had this product before, ingredient lists could have changed, so always read it from start to finish before you consume it! Also note that for Health Canada’s top 9 allergens (wheat, soy, eggs, sulphites, seafood, milk, sesame, mustard, tree nuts, and peanuts ) companies now have to use the common name for these ingredients. For example, words like “milk” instead of “casein”, and spell out ingredients in plain language that consumers can easily understand (1).

3. Look for Precautionary Statements Of Your Allergen. Canadian manufacturers may use precautionary statements like “may contain”, “processed in a facility…” or “made in a factory that also processes”. However they are not required or regulated by Health Canada(1). Don’t take the risk and consume the product, if you allergen is listen in a precautionary statement. There has been research that has found that some products with these statements actually contain enough allergen to cause an allergic reaction (1).

4. If You’re Not Sure, Call The Company. When you do decide to call a company, ask them very specific questions about their manufacturing and labeling practices for each product, as they can differ from product to product depending on where and how they are manufactured. These can include:

  • Is your ABC variety cookie manufactured in a line or facility that processes allergen X?
  • How does your company sanitize the line between runs? Do they test for allergen residue after sanitizing? How?
  • Do you include an advisory statement for an allergen every time your products are manufactured on a shared line or in a facility where the allergen is processed, or are their other considerations?

    ADDITIONAL NOTES
  • Do not buy a packaged product without an ingredients list
  • Do not buy foods from bulk bins shoppers may have used the same scoops in different bins, and this can cause cross-contamination.  
  • Labelling requirements differ from country to country, so be vigilant when you’re travelling outside of Canada. 

Do you have any additional questions about food label reading for allergens? Leave me a comment!

1 Canada, Health. “Government of Canada.” Canada.ca, / Gouvernement Du Canada, 6 May 2019, http://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-allergies-intolerances/avoiding- allergens-food/tips-avoiding-common-allergens-food.html.

Written by Nicole Osinga, RD, MAN, BASc

I'm a Registered Dietitian who works with clients in the Durham Region! I use evidence-based recommendations to help you achieve your nutrition goals. I have many hearty and delicious recipes to share! My office is in Courtice, ON. I regularly work with clients from Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Newcastle, Bowmanville and Courtice.

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