Allergen Labelling Information for Manufacturers and Importers of Cereal Grain-based Products

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is encouraging domestic manufacturers and importers of grain-based products to inform consumers that products containing cereal grains, such as oats or barley, may also contain low levels of wheat.

While most Canadians with wheat allergies only react to higher levels of exposure, those with severe wheat allergies may be sensitive to small amounts of wheat. Cereal grains are often grown close to other types of grain and are sometimes harvested using the same equipment. Because of this, it is extremely difficult to exclude all traces of wheat from other cereal grains during harvesting.

On May 19, 2011, Health Canada communicated to consumers with severe wheat allergies that cereal grains, such as oats or barley, may contain low levels of wheat because of the way these grains are grown, harvested and processed. Health Canada is advising such individuals to exercise caution by carefully reviewing labels of pre-packaged foods and contacting companies to confirm if products containing other cereal grains might also contain traces of wheat.

In order to complement the Health Canada advice and to assist allergic consumers in making appropriate food choices, manufacturers and importers are advised to take appropriate steps to inform consumers of the possible presence of low levels of wheat in their products. Possible actions include web site advisories, information for toll-free information lines and over-stickering on existing packaging. Children with wheat allergies are particularly prone to being sensitive to low levels of wheat. Therefore, precautionary measures for cereal grain-based foods for children are strongly advised. Such precautionary measures are encouraged unless these grains have been specially grown, harvested and processed in a manner to ensure exclusion of wheat.

CFIA also encourages manufacturers and importers of grain-based products to transition towards the inclusion of precautionary labelling (a 'may contain wheat' statement) on their products to indicate the potential presence of wheat.

Enhanced Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), additional laboratory screening, and other direct engagement and communications with customers should also be considered.

Originally issued May 20, 2011 (Information Letter To Industry)