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It's Your Health
Food allergies among Canadians have received a great deal of media attention lately. Most allergic reactions to food are caused by nine categories of foods. Even trace amounts of those foods can cause a severe or life-threatening reaction in some people.
In Canada, there are nine priority food allergens (substances which causes allergies):
Reactions to these allergens among allergic individuals range from mild to severe. Trace amounts of these foods can potentially be found in a wide range of food products including snack foods, health foods, baked goods, seasonings, and many other foods.
Allergic reactions happen when the body's immune system reacts to a particular protein or irritant. The reaction may be caused by food, insect stings, and medications.
When someone comes in contact with an allergen, symptoms may develop quickly and have the potential to progress rapidly from a mild reaction to a severe one. The most dangerous of these symptoms include breathing difficulties, a drop in blood pressure, or shock, which may result in loss of consciousness and even death. Severe allergic reactions can occur quickly and without warning. A person experiencing an allergic reaction may have any of the following symptoms:
There is currently no cure for any food allergy. The only way to prevent a reaction is to totally avoid the specific food. Should a severe reaction occur, the appropriate emergency treatment is an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline). People with known food allergies should carry an auto-injector of epinephrine, which allows them to give themselves an injection of adrenaline.
Adrenaline should be administered as soon as the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction appear. This should be followed up with further treatment and observation in a hospital emergency room.
Severe allergic reactions are not predictable. You may have a mild reaction one time and a severe one the next time, or vice versa.
The Government of Canada is committed to providing safe food to all Canadians.
Health Canada is responsible for administering the Food and Drugs Act. Health Canada works with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the medical community to identify foods most commonly involved in allergic reactions.
The CFIA also enforces Canada's labelling laws and works with associations, distributors, retailers, food manufacturers, and importers to ensure complete and appropriate labelling of all foods. It recommends that food companies establish effective allergen controls to minimize the potential for allergic reactions.
The Food and Drug Regulations require that pre-packaged food be labelled and that ingredients appear in a list in decreasing order of proportion. However, these regulations do not currently require components (i.e. ingredients of ingredients) of certain foods and products, such as flavouring, seasoning, spices and vinegar, to be listed on food labels.
Health Canada is working to amend the Food and Drug Regulations to require that the most common foods and food ingredients, which have the potential to cause life-threatening or severe allergic reactions, be labelled when intentionally added to food. These changes would also require that the most common of these foods and food ingredients be always identified by their common names, which consumers can easily recognize on food labels.
Some of the hyperlinks provided are to sites of organizations or other entities that are not subject to the Official Languages Act. The material found there is therefore in the language(s) used by the sites in question.
For additional information on food allergens, go to:
For more information on severe allergic reactions, consult your doctor or go to:
Health Canada, It's Your Health, Severe Allergic Reactions
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web section
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*.
Original: June 2009
©Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2009