How to avoid corn in Canada

Are you allergic to corn?

The safest and most definitive way to test whether you are allergic to corn is to eliminate corn from your life and then see whether your symptoms improve. And there’s the rub – corn is in an unbelievably large range of products. It is a lot more difficult to avoid coming into contact with corn derivatives than it might first appear.

Know your labels

The first steps of corn avoidance is knowing your enemy: in this case, the enemy is not just corn, but tricky labeling laws that make it hard to tell when a product contains corn.

Corn is not on Canada’s list of recognized major allergens, so there are no laws in Canada governing how or when it should be declared on labels.

A few years ago, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency undertook some studies to determine whether it was economically feasible to force manufacturers to indicate the origins of number of products known to cause allergic reactions in people. They determined that even though corn allergy is real and can be serious, not enough people are affected by it to merit changing the labeling laws to show exactly when every ingredient of every food and drink can be traced back to corn (article). This means that if you want to avoid corn, you have to avoid all products that contain ingredients that may have come from corn, even if there are cases when they might be made from something else.

There is no one-stop summary of this information. The government web sites involved are: Food Allergies and Allergen Labelling Information for Consumers, List of Ingredients and Allergens for industry (both in force since August of 2012), Composition Claims, as well as the 2003 Canadian Food Inspection Agency Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising, Chapter 2: Basic Labelling Requirements, Annexes 2-1 to 2-4.

For the record, major or “priority” allergens are restricted to:

  • almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts
  • peanuts
  • sesame seeds
  • wheat and triticale
  • eggs
  • milk
  • soybeans
  • crustaceans (and the common name of the crustaceans)
  • shellfish (and the common name of the shellfish)
  • fish (common name of the fish); or
  • mustard seeds
  • gluten sources (gluten protein, modified gluten protein, or gluten protein fractions from barley, oats, rye, triticale or wheat, or a hybridized strain of any of these cereals)
  • sulphites (> 10 ppm)

Food recalls

Even though the government does not recall foods containing undeclared corn, you may still be interested in foods recalled because of contamination with one of the “big 8” allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, shellfish, eggs, milk or wheat), bacteria, or other concerns. www.HealthyCanadians.gc.ca is the site to bookmark for these purposes.

When in doubt. . .

Most prepackaged products will have consumer feedback telephone numbers which you can use to call and find out whether that “vegetable oil” or “modified starch,” etc. in the product you’d like to try contains corn or not. Be patient. Usually the people who staff such hotlines have to talk to food production managers before they can get back to you with an answer.