December 4, 2023
In July 2022, Health Canada announced new regulations for supplemented foods, which are prepackaged foods with one or more supplemental ingredients.
Supplemental ingredients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids and caffeine. Beverages with added vitamins and minerals, beverages with added caffeine (for example, caffeinated energy drinks) and bars with added vitamins and minerals are examples of supplemented foods.
Why did Health Canada announce new regulations for these products since they were already being sold in stores? To answer that question, we turn to Health Canada’s Yasmin Yorish, Food Policy Liaison Officer in Burnaby, British Columbia.
A need for regulations
“These foods are generally safe, but they are not for everyone. At-risk populations, such as pregnant people or children under 14 years of age, should not consume some supplemented foods when certain ingredients are added to them because they can pose a risk to their health. Healthy adults can also be at risk if they consume too many of these products. Different people may also have different reactions because of their sensitivity to certain ingredients, like caffeine,” explains Ms. Yorish.
Recognizing that people needed more information to make informed decisions, Health Canada drafted new regulations. As an expert in microbiology and health administration, Ms. Yorish was a great candidate to play a leadership role on this collaborative project. Together with a team of science, policy and regulatory experts in food safety and nutrition, she helped draft the regulations, but it was not an easy task.
An imposing challenge
To draft the regulations, Ms. Yorish and her team had to look through the best available evidence and answer several questions, including:
- Which food categories should be allowed to be supplemented?
- What should be considered a supplemental ingredient?
- What are the risks of consuming too many supplemented foods and who is at risk?
- What type of labelling will facilitate awareness and understanding among people in Canada, particularly those with limited health literacy?
- How will the new regulations be enforced?
Once the team reviewed the scientific evidence and answered these questions, Ms. Yorish and others drafted the regulations which require, among other things, that supplemented foods be clearly identified.
A new visual cue to empower consumers
Under the new regulations, consumers can expect to see a standardized Supplemented Food Facts table (SFFt) on supplemented foods.
The SFFt includes information on the type and amount of each supplemental ingredient and the nutrient information that is typically found in the Nutrition Facts table (NFt).
“This new table will help consumers recognize that these products are different, while maintaining a familiar look-and-feel to the nutrition facts table that Canadians are used to seeing on their food products,” describes Ms. Yorish.
In addition, some supplemented foods are required to display cautionary statements on their labels so that the product can be consumed safely. Such products also require a supplemented food caution identifier on the front of the package as a visual cue for consumers to look for the caution box and determine if the product is right for them.
As Ms. Yorish says: “Information is power, and with these new labels, we’ll be empowering consumers by giving them the information they need to make informed decisions about these foods.”
Understanding supplemented food labels
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Infographic: Understanding supplemented food labels - Text version
Supplemented foods are prepackaged foods with added supplemental ingredients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids or other ingredients (for example, caffeine).
These foods carry a supplemented food facts table with:
- The heading 'Supplemented Food Facts'
- A 'Supplemented with' section at the bottom of the table with all the supplemental ingredients
- A footnote that says 'includes naturally occurring and supplemental amounts'
Caution labels are on some supplemented foods that can pose a health risk if:
- consumed in excess by the general population; or
- consumed by those who are pregnant, children or other vulnerable groups.
The supplemented food caution identifier on the front of the package tells you there are cautions on the back of the package.
The caution box could tell you:
- who should not eat or drink this product
- to limit the number of servings per day
- to not eat or drink it with other supplemented foods or supplements with the same supplemented ingredients
‘High caffeine content’ must appear somewhere on the label of a caffeinated energy drink.
A lot more work to do
The regulations are in force for new products, but supplemented foods that were already on the market have until January 1, 2026, to update their labels. However, industry can comply earlier, and consumers are already seeing supplemented foods with the new labels on the market.
“Health Canada works hand in hand with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to implement these new regulations. While CFIA is responsible for compliance and enforcement, Health Canada has provided guidance to industry so they can update their labels on their products before 2026,” explains Ms. Yorish.
The Department has also built in flexibility in the regulations to allow requests for new supplemented foods in the coming years. This could include reviewing new supplemental ingredients or approving new food categories for supplementation. These requests will be reviewed for safety and the Department will consult publicly before making any changes.