Not overwhelmed with regulatory modernization yet? Don’t be disappointed. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are just getting started. The June 2015 Canada Gazette I proposed regulations on nutrition and ingredient labelling were among the first few shots on modernization. Those are just the numbing introduction. More intoxicating changes will be served up soon. This includes the much-anticipated Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, and of course even more food labelling changes. Get your Alka-Seltzer ready for the modernization hangover that is coming.
The June 2015 Canada Gazette I also includes a makeover for allergen and precautionary allergen labelling. Allergen labelling in Canada, even though practiced voluntarily for more than 20 years, was only formally introduced in August 2012. It is not prescribed in Canadian legislation. Such statements as “May contain” can be objected to by the CFIA where it is considered misleading. Blindly making statements that a food may contain a food allergen, gluten source or sulphite when there is no rationale for that, could misrepresent the character, composition or safety of the food.
Under the proposed amendments to the Food Drug Regulations (FDR) precautionary allergen labelling would for the first time be formally governed in Canada. The proposed regulations, however, would not prescribe when such a statement should or can be used. It would prescribe where the statement must be located and what style of lettering, type size and background must be used. Other than how to identify food allergens, gluten sources and sulphites, the format of the statement is left to the discretion of manufacturers.
The use of an allergen contains statement on a label is not mandatory when a list of ingredients identifies all Canadian priority food allergens, gluten sources and sulphites by their common names. The current regulations prescribe how such a statement is to be constructed. For example, it must be prefixed with the word “Contains,” must appear after the list of ingredients if included, and include all applicable food allergens, gluten sources and sulphites, even if already declared in an ingredient list.
Precautionary allergen labelling is currently voluntary. The CFIA would not object to the use of such statements as long as they are not made indiscriminately and are presented in a clear and non-misleading manner. While neither regulations nor guidelines specifically state that an allergen risk assessment must be conducted, such an assessment for practical purposes would be essential in ensuring statements are warranted.
What the regulations today recognize as an allergen contains statement is referred to in the proposed regulations as “food allergen source, gluten source and added sulphites statement.” It still commences with the term “Contains,” but it must be bold, and in a type size at least two points larger than the remainder of the declaration, which must be at least six points. Smaller type sizes are permitted only where the nutrition facts table is also permitted to use smaller point sizes or where the available display surface of the package is 100 cm2 or less. Mixed case letters must be used, and allergens, gluten sources and sulphites are to be separated by bullet points. It must appear on the same background colour, and within the box or the lines of the ingredient list, on the same continuous package surface. English must be grouped with English, and French with French.
Precautionary allergen statements would have to be shown after an allergen statement if included, or the list of ingredients if not. As with the allergen contains information, it must start on a separate line, on the same continuous surface of the package and on the same background colour as the list of ingredients. The type must be regular and the same size as that of the list of ingredients. The statement would remain voluntary. When such a statement is included it must, however, use the prescribed terminology for allergens, gluten sources and sulphites as per the FDR.
Contrast the proposed changes to the current rules that do not prescribe typeface, colour, separators, background or even type size. A type size of 1/16 inch is good enough now. Better get some extra Alka-Seltzer, this hangover is going to be around for some time.