2013-2014 Undeclared Allergens and Gluten in Chocolate

Executive Summary

Targeted surveys are used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest risk. The information gained from these surveys provides both support for the prioritization of the Agency's activities to areas of greater concern and scientific evidence to address areas of lesser concern. Originally started under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been incorporated into the CFIA's regular surveillance activities as a valuable tool for generating essential information on certain hazards in foods, identifying/characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting/refining human health risk assessments, assessing compliance with Canadian regulations, highlighting potential contamination issues, and promoting compliance.

The main objectives of this targeted survey were to obtain baseline information regarding the presence and levels of undeclared allergens and gluten in chocolate, and to identify potential food safety concerns related to undeclared allergens and gluten for the allergic and sensitive population.

A wide variety of prepackaged chocolate products are available on the Canadian market. In some cases, undeclared allergens and/or gluten sources may be present in these products due to incomplete labelling or cross-contamination prior to or during manufacture of the final product, which may indicate a breakdown in good manufacturing practices or allergen controls. The presence of an undeclared allergen in a food may represent a serious or life-threatening health risk for allergic or sensitive individuals. In addition, undeclared gluten may contribute to chronic health issues for those individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

For this survey, 583 samples of chocolate were collected and analyzed for one or more undeclared allergens (specifically soy, egg, milk (beta-lactoglobulin and casein), peanut, almond, hazelnut, and sesame) and/or gluten. Samples targeted in this survey were prepackaged chocolate (e.g., bars, chips, baking, chocolate containing additional ingredients, and cocoa powder) or chocolate-based products such as dessert toppings, nut butter blends, granola/cereal bars and crackers. Of the 583 samples tested, 34 (5.8%) were positive for one or more undeclared allergens and/or gluten. Excluding samples that tested positive for both milk proteins, four samples were found to be positive for more than one undeclared allergen.

All positive results were evaluated by the CFIA, taking into account the fact that not all detectable levels of undeclared allergens and gluten pose a risk to consumers. The CFIA initiated appropriate risk management actions based on health risk assessments by Health Canada. Actions may include notification to the producer or importer, follow-up inspection, additional directed sampling, a food safety investigation, and recall of products.

The CFIA will continue its surveillance activities and inform the Canadian public and other stakeholders of its findings.

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