2011-2012 Undeclared Allergens in Snack Foods with an Allergen Free and/or Gluten Free Claim

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to evaluate various foods for specific hazards.

A wide variety of pre-packaged snack foods are available on the Canadian market. Snack foods include baked goods, cereals, cookies, crackers, granola bars and puddings. Some snack foods have allergen free and/or gluten free claims on their labels. Allergen free and gluten free claims imply that measures have been taken by a company to ensure that the claim is accurate, and provides a measure of reassurance to an allergic or gluten sensitive individual.

The main objectives of the undeclared allergens in snack foods survey were:

  • To obtain baseline information regarding the presence and levels of undeclared priority allergens and gluten in snack foods which have an allergen free and/or gluten free claims on their labels.
  • To identify potential food safety concerns relating to undeclared allergens in snack foods which have an allergen free and/or gluten free claims on their labels.

Each of the 487 snack food products sampled in the survey had one or more allergen free claims (e.g. peanut free) and or a gluten free claim on the label. Samples were analyzed for the presence of allergens and/or gluten that were the subject of a free claim on the label as well as for allergens and gluten that were not declared in the list of ingredients. The allergen analyses consisted of: soy, egg, milk (beta-lactoglobulin and casein), peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts and sesame. The majority of the samples were analysed for more than one allergen and/or gluten. There were 2810 analyses completed on the 487 samples. Twenty nine (6%) of the 487 samples of snack foods sampled were found to be positive for the presence of an undeclared allergen(s) or gluten. Some of the 29 samples were positive for more than one undeclared allergen; there were a total of 43 positive results. Of the 43 positive results (43/2810, ~1.5%) there was: 1 almond, 18 milk (8 beta-lactoglobulin and 10 casein), 18 gluten, 2 sesame and 4 soy. Of the 18 samples that were positive for undeclared gluten 4 samples had levels above 20 ppm, levels below 20 ppm are unlikely to cause adverse health effects. There were no undeclared peanut, egg or hazelnut found in any of the samples.

Over half of the undeclared allergens and gluten detected, 23 out of 43, were found in products with a corresponding allergen free and/or gluten free claim. The positives were: 3 soy, 18 gluten and 2 milk (1 beta-lactoglobulin and 1 casein). These 23 positive results were found in 20 products. Two products contained an allergen (soy, milk) as well as gluten. There was a claim on each label indicating the product was free of the allergen and gluten.

All positive results were followed up by Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Follow up action may involve a food safety investigation, including a health risk assessment conducted by Health Canada and a recall or one of the following: notification of manufacturer/importer and/or additional sampling.

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