Opinion Column

More common sense needed for allergy labelling

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

(BradCalkins/Getty Images)

(BradCalkins/Getty Images)

My youngest daughter has a severe soy allergy which means that reading ingredient lists has become a necessarily regular practice of mine. While Health Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations require food allergens and gluten to be clearly marked on prepackaged products, food sold in restaurants is exempt.

According to research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology about one in 13 or 7.5% of Canadians have at least one food allergy. It is unknown if allergy rates are increasing or we are just becoming more aware of them, but at any rate, this trend is occurring at the same time that Canadians are spending more on eating out than ever before.

For the 25th year in a row, the amount of money Canadians spend on eating out is projected to increase.

So what do those with severe allergies do when they purchase restaurant or fast food? In many cases they have to avoid places that aren't clear about what's in their food and other times they end up taking a chance.

The irony is that we’re seeing this lack of allergen labelling at a time when awareness about nutrition and calorie counts is prevalent.

I bought a wrap last week at Tim Hortons and they had a little sign by the cash register encouraging patrons to ask for a nutritional information pamphlet. I wrongly assumed that this would also include ingredients and potential allergens so I asked for one to study as bedtime reading. When I opened it up, I found several pretty charts about how many calories Canadians should consume every day and a chart depicting calorie contents for all the restaurant’s offerings, but ingredients? Nada. Tim Hortons’ message to those with allergies? “We recommend that you refrain from eating our products.”

It's a big fail for those for whom food ingredients can literally be a matter of life and death and also for the friends and families who eat with them. What good is a calorie chart if you don't know if it's even safe for you to eat the sandwich? Of course a lot of this self-protectionist phrasing on the part of restaurants comes from a fear of being sued should a food item contain an allergen they claim it doesn't. Surely though there is a more common-sense approach that doesn't leave one in 13 people feeling like it's unsafe to eat anywhere but at home.