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Let's Discuss the Differences in U.S. and Canadian Food Labels

When you take packaged food in the United States and compare it to Canadian packaged food, it amounts to more than just the English/French languages that are displayed, thus making the Canadian market unique from our US friends.  We will now talk about a few of these not so obvious differences that you need to consider when producing or marketing products in Canada.


Naming of Ingredients

Believe it or not, ingredients approved for use in products in the US are not always approved for use in Canada, and this works vice versa. Canada has its own list of approved additives which are explained in their Food and Drug Regulations and their Processed Product Regulations. These regulations specifically state what kind of ingredients are allowed in certain products, how much of that ingredient is allowed to be in that product and what the common name of that food ingredient needs to be.


Food Additives

Canada also identifies the approved makeup of an ingredient used in a food, as well as the entire food product itself. While the U.S. does something similar, via the Code of Federal Regulations, the requirements for the two countries do not necessarily align. This list of permitted food additives is constantly being updated by the Canadian Government.  Here are several examples:

  1. There are certain colours that are approved in the U.S. but not in Canada.

  2. Flavour preparations for Canadian food products can only contain specific components, unlike U.S.

  3. There are many novel dietary fibre sources that have been approved in Canada, yet they are still under regulatory evaluation in the United States.

Vitamins & Minerals

Food fortification with vitamins and minerals are strictly monitored in Canada due to the fact that only certain nutritional additives are allowed in standard foods. Vitamins and minerals typically seen in packaged foods in the U.S. will often trigger an alternative regulatory category that requires licensure and registration with the Canadian government under specific rules different from the standard “food.”


Allergenic Substances

The potential allergenic substances are also different in Canada. For example, coconuts are not considered a tree nut in Canada, but would be in the U.S. Gluten and wheat are labeled as allergens in Canada, but only wheat is required to be labeled as an allergen in the U.S. Mustard and sulfite allergens are also required in Canada, in addition to the disclosure of tartrazine (Yellow 5), a known sensitizer.


Units of Measure

It might be a surprise to you, that the amount of the food that goes into the package is different.  English units are optional, but Canada requires weights and volumes in metric as the primary measurement units for net contents.


Language

In Canada, some citizens speak both English & French, so both languages are required on food labels where in the U.S, only English is required. There are still five mandatory elements of the food label required – statement of identity, net contents, nutrition facts, ingredient information and distributor clause – but the specific requirements for each of these elements differs from the U.S and can be found in their Food and Drug Regulations and their Processed Product Regulations.


Nutrition Facts Panel

Similar to the U.S., Canada has passed their own legislation updating the Nutrition Facts regulations, in addition to other improvements, which brings the two countries labels closer in alignment. Under the new Canadian ruling, added sugars are required, the mandatory vitamins and minerals will remain the same, certain graphic elements are emphasized and daily value requirements are aligned. Rounding rules differ slightly from the U.S. and there are different qualifying percentages and formulations for nutrient content claims and approved health claims. Always check reference amounts and serving sizes as the measurements can differ.

While it’s not an all inclusive list, the differences summarized above between foods and ingredients intended for the U.S. versus the Canadian market are more than just converting from a U.S. English label to a French version. The regulations are different for each country and should be treated as separate food products.


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