There is no single world-wide definition for the term “gluten-free.” Some countries have specific gluten-free labelling regulations that identify which foods and ingredients are allowed and not allowed on a gluten-free diet.
Canada is in a transition period between the old labelling regulations and new regulations that take effect on August 4, 2012. By that date, labels for all food products sold in Canada will have to carry clear identification of the priority allergens, gluten, and added suphites at a level greater than 10 ppm.
In Canada, gluten means "any gluten protein or modified protein, including any protein fraction derived from the grains of the following cereals: barley, oats, rye, triticale, wheat, kamut or spelt". The definition also applies to the grains of hybridized strains of the cereals listed above.
The allergens that must be labelled in plain language in ingredient list or in a "Contains" list immediately below the ingredient list are:
- Tree Nuts(almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts)
- Sesame Seeds
- Seafood (Fish, Crustaceans and Shellfish)
There are a few exemptions from the requirements for labelling pre-packaged food:
- One-bite confectionary, such as a candy or a stick of chewing gum, sold individually
- Fresh fruit or vegetables packaged in a wrapper or confining band of less than 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) in width.
- Standardized beer, which always contains barley and/or wheat.
When you are looking for gluten in a product, there are three places you need to look:
- The list of ingredients.
- The Contains statement.
- Any allergen precautionary statement present on the label.
According to Health Canada precautionary labelling should only be used when, despite all reasonable measures, the inadvertent presence of allergens in food is unavoidable. It must not be used when an allergen or allergen-containing ingredient is deliberately added to a food. Furthermore, the use of a precautionary statement where there is no real risk of an allergen being present in the food. In other words, you should view ingredients listed in a precautionary statements as if they were listed in the ingredient list.
For more information about ingredient labelling laws in Canada, check Health Canada’s Food Allergen Labelling pages.