In 2019, Food Allergy Canada launched the National Food Allergy Action Plan. This initiative is aimed at guiding policies that will improve quality of life for Canadians with food allergies. The current available estimate is that 1 in 13 Canadians self-report having an allergy, which amounts to approximately 2.5 million people who would benefit from such policies. How are these allergies dealt with in Canada?
Canada has what are called “priority food allergens”. These refer to the list of foods associated with 90 percent of allergic reactions and there are labelling requirements for them. While many allergies may be familiar to the common consumer, if you are interested in food safety careers, keep reading to learn more about this important topic.
Allergy, Intolerance, or Sensitivity?
Knowledge of food allergies and intolerances will inform learning about public health legislation and cross-contamination, which are included in training for a certificate in food safety. Although an allergy, intolerance or sensitivity all result in an individual needing to avoid certain ingredients, it is important to know the difference between these reactions:
- Food allergies: an immune system reaction wherein the body identifies a food protein as harmful. Antibodies and chemicals are released, which can cause things like anaphylaxis
- Celiac disease: a genetic immune system intolerance of gluten, which causes malabsorption in the small intestine and sometimes leads to serious complications
- Food intolerance: usually caused by an inability to digest a food ingredient, most commonly lactose
- Chemical sensitivity: an adverse reaction to chemicals that are added to food or naturally occur, for example, tyramine, which is found in aged cheeses
- Food sensitivity: is an umbrella term encompassing allergies and intolerances, or any adverse reaction to ingredients or chemicals in food and drinks
Priority Food Allergens
There are a variety of adverse reactions to different ingredients and chemicals to learn about if you are interested in obtaining a food handling certificate. However, as noted in the introduction, most reactions are caused by a small group of very common food ingredients:
- Tree nuts
- Fish, crustaceans, and molluscs (commonly referred to as shellfish)
- Wheat and triticale
In many cases, even if a manufactured food product doesn’t contain one of these allergens, the ingredients may be present on the premises. This creates risk for consumers and necessitates certain labelling requirements for food producers.
“May Contain” Testaments
Consumers and producers must be familiar with food sensitivities, but they also have to be familiar with labels and label requirements. Consumers need information to make sure they are not taking undue risks when buying food products. Producers are responsible for disclosing ingredients and possible cross-contaminations. Statements to look for include the following:
- May contain…
- Processed in a facility…
- Made in a factory that also processes…
- Free from…
- Peanut free or Milk free
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