Do you ever take the chance when you read: “May contain wheat” or “This product has been manufactured in a plant that also processes wheat” or any other ‘precautionary food labelling’ wording choice by a company? For me, I normally try to avoid these products but there are times when I just can’t find an alternative and decide to take the chance. Fortunately, I have never experienced an adverse reaction when consuming these products but still try to make an effort to avoid them as much as possible.
A few weeks ago, I did some researching on precautionary food labelling rules in Canada and discovered that this type of labelling is completely voluntary. A company can decide to make this statement when the potential for contamination of a particular allergen is completely unavoidable in the processing of the product. For example, if the company utilizes the same equipment to produce gluten free and gluten full foods. So what’s a celiac girl to do? This means that any pre-packaged product not specifically labelled “gluten free” could potentially contain gluten. In addition, even if I don’t experience an obvious physical reaction to a particular product that could potentially contain gluten, I am still causing intestinal harm on the inside.
Health Canada is currently reviewing their policy on precautionary food labelling, which is very outdated given the rise in allergies over the past decade (the last update was in 1994). You can currently offer your input and opinions online (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/minist/messages/_2014/2014_01_28-eng.php) regarding this important topic so that labelling can become more transparent regarding the risk of unavoidable contamination of food allergens. For now, if you are uncertain about a particular product, it is best to contact the company to find out their processing practices to ensure there is no risk of cross contamination.
Finally, here are some further details regarding food labelling and gluten free regulations according to Health Canada:
– Any gluten that is present due to cross-contamination in a food labelled gluten-free should be as low as reasonably achievable and must not surpass 20 ppm of gluten, a level that is considered protective for the majority of people with Celiac disease.
– Based on Health Canada’s position, enforcement action on products containing less than 20 ppm gluten as a result of cross-contamination will not include a recall of the product, nor a request to remove the gluten-free claim.
– Beer products whose components respect the standards of composition for beer in the Food and Drug Regulations are considered “standardized”. Such “standardized” beers are not required to carry an ingredient list. Standardized beer is always made from barley and or wheat, and is therefore not suitable for individuals with celiac disease to consume. Beer can also contain other allergens or sulphites depending on the individual product.