OTTAWA - Health Canada is cautioning Canadians with severe wheat allergies that other cereal grains, such as oats or barley, may contain low levels of wheat because of the way these grains are grown and harvested.
While most Canadians with wheat allergies only react to higher levels of exposure, it is important for those sensitive to even small amounts of wheat to pay special attention when reading ingredient labels. Children with wheat allergies, in particular, are more prone to being sensitive to low levels of wheat than allergic adults.
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 keep all traces of wheat from other cereal grains during harvesting.
Because only some consumers with wheat allergies would be affected by the presence of these low levels of wheat in other cereal grains, allergic consumers and parents of allergic children should discuss with their health care provider before making any changes to their regular diet.
Canadians with wheat allergies and who are sensitive to small amounts of wheat should review labels of pre-packaged foods carefully and contact the company to confirm if products containing other cereal grains might contain traces of wheat. There are also products entering the market containing grains such as "pure oats", which are processed to avoid the presence of wheat.
To help consumers with these choices, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have advised food manufacturers facing this situation that their labels should use a "may contain" statement to inform consumers of the possible presence of low levels of wheat in their products.
For more information on Health Canada's policy around precautionary labels for food allergens, please visit the Health Canada web site.
Consumers requiring more information can contact Health Canada's public enquiries line at (613) 957-2991, or toll free at 1-866-225-0709.