Tips for shopping with food allergies in Canada

By Stephanie Reed

Posted on January 17, 2022
grocery shopping

Moving to a new country with severe or minor food allergies in your family can be overwhelming and stressful. As food is a necessity and eating is a part of everyday life, there is a small window to learn the allergy precautions in a new country, before needing to buy food that you feel will be safe for your family.

Fortunately, Canadian food laws require all pre-packaged food labelling to have the common names of “priority food allergens” listed. With half of Canadian households being impacted by a food allergy, there are more and more resources, precautions, and food options available in grocery stores and restaurants across the country.

Triple check the ingredient label

When living with severe allergies, you can never be too safe. Avoid trusting the creative labelling on the front of packaged products, such as “soy-free.” Instead read the ingredients listed to be certain. This ensures you are aware of “may-contain” statements listed at the end of the ingredients list. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Canada requires any potential manufacturing cross-contaminations to be listed on the packaging. For example, it is required for the product to include a statement if the item was manufactured in a place where another allergen was present, such as tree nuts, eggs, and soy.

Do not buy from bulk or self serve stations

Avoid delis, salad bars, and bulk stores. Self-serve stations and bulk containers are not sealed or monitored for possible cross contamination of food. The serving utensils used at these stations could be used in multiple containers by customers, causing unknown contamination if you have severe allergies. The high chance of cross-contamination in these options can be avoided by sticking to pre-packaged and well labelled food options.

Be prepared

In the scenario where an allergic reaction does happen, it is best to have a plan in place. If it is your child who has serious food allergies, inform those around them—teachers, day care workers, peers, neighbours, family—of what to do in the situation of a serious reaction. It is also helpful to have those around the person with severe allergies to be aware of the symptoms:

  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Itching
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Throat tightness
  • Stomach problems
  • Paleness of skin
  • Weak pulse


Reach out for support if you need it

Constantly being aware of every ingredient can be exhausting. However, as every other household in Canada has a food allergy present, you are not alone. There are mentorship groups for children with allergies, as well as webinars and support groups for parents managing their children’s food allergies.


In today’s society, there are hundreds of apps on fitness, dieting, healthy eating, and even allergy warnings. One free app (available for iPhone and Android) is the AllergyEats Mobile App. It provides a list of restaurants near you that are ranked according to an allergy-friendly rating.

There are also thousands of cooking recipes accessible online that are allergy friendly. One example is written by a Toronto author and photographer who lives with multiple food allergies herself. Her online cookbook is called Everyday Allergen Free.

For additional information on food allergies or non-food allergies (insect stings, medications, latex, etc.) check out Food Allergy Canada’s website for help.

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