Grocery Store Guru

All about the grocery industry, from a store level perspective.

Let the (cross border) buyer beware

*From the (sort of) Editor:

Usually, I don’t edit my posts at all. I let the words flow out, and post it right away – seems to me that it keeps it sounding like a conversation, and my honest opinion comes across better that way.

I wrote the following post at 4am one day. After reading it again, it really has an almost angry tone. I promise you, nothing about this topic makes me angry. I believe everyone has the right to choose what they eat and where they buy it. It just amazes me that the people that make these choices day in and day out have no idea what the consequences of their decisions are.

Enjoy the read!


We have a lot in common with our neighbours to the south. Similar cultures, language, sports… But we’re certainly not the same. That goes for our consumer products as well – those cute baby walkers that let little tykes get from place to place sitting in the middle of a platform with many wheels? They’ve been illegal here in Canada for years, but you can still get them to the south. And you can search the net for some hilarious articles about Canadians trying to take Kinder eggs to the states, not realizing that they’re illegal down there.

We count on our government to help keep us safe, and they do this by creating legislation – usually in response to an incident. Since our experiences and priorities are different, so are the pieces of legislation that come about in each of our countries.

We usually have a decent grasp of what the standards are where we live, because we experience them every day. When we visit somewhere else, most of us don’t have a switch we can flip to look at life with someone else’s logic. Why do people try to take Kinder eggs across the border? Because the thought that they would be illegal likely didn’t enter their minds. In fact, add the cuban cigars that I buy at Fortinos to the list. That makes 2 things that I can get at my local grocery store that are illegal in the States. I wonder how many other things I could find if I tried?

It does happen the other way around, as well. In the 90’s, there was a candy company in Concord Ontario that produced a gum that they couldn’t sell in Canada. There was too much food coloring in it, and Health Canada didn’t consider it safe. Did they stop making it? Nope… As you’ve probably guessed, they shipped every piece they produced to the States, where the rules weren’t quite as strict.

How many Canadians visiting the States do you think brought this popular, kid focused product home with them? How many parents gave to their child a food product that Health Canada banned for consumption?

We expect that our government protects our food supply, but how can they do that if we work around them?

This is not a cry to ban cross border shopping. But it is hopefully a wakeup call to some people that do shop over the border. Some products may not be available here in Canada for a good reason.  Know what the differences are in the regulations are for the types of products you’re likely to buy. It’s painfully obvious to me that most people don’t know, and I can prove it with one product.

That product is Bob’s Red Mill rolled oats. At least a couple of times a month, I get asked where to find the gluten free oats – they can only find the wheat free ones at the store. After I politely explain that you can’t get any oats labeled gluten free in Canada, I get told that can’t be true – they have some sitting in front of them on the pantry shelf!

No product with oats in it can be labeled as gluten free in Canada. In the U.S. there is no such rule. As a result, the exact same product is labeled gluten free in the States, and wheat free here.

The scary part is, the people that ask me this question are almost all suffering from Celiac disease, or some form of gluten intolerance. Gluten free can mean vastly different things – until the States get around to passing some food labeling legislation, there could be as much as ten times the amount gluten in a product labeled gluten free in the States as a product labeled gluten free in Canada.

*WARNING* Food need spoiler alert! Below I will tell you something that you may not want to hear, but affects the way I shop when I go to the grocery store!

When I buy fresh produce, I always try to buy local…. It just tastes better. But aside from that, my biggest rule is to avoid U.S. produce whenever I can. Many major produce recalls I had to deal with were products of the States.

Two of them stick in my head…. Flesh eating bacteria in Californian Strawberries, and Botulism on baby carrots and in carrot juice both from California as well.

Recently, there was an outbreak of Listeria in the States and it was traced back to melons from a farm in Colorado. The kicker? The farm had had a safety audit DAYS before the outbreak and received a 96% ”superior” score even though the melons weren’t going through an anti microbial wash (a farily standard process in a factory farm). Thirty people died.


August 29, 2012 - Posted by | Products, Viewpoint


  1. Well ….. I am a cross border shopper. I have not had anything that I have purchased there give me a problem. Also, there is an oat that is manufactured in the US that is being sold in Canada and It says Gluten Free and supposedly been approved by CFIA. I have found so many conflicting articles on this subject over the last few days. “The company says it is approved to be advertised as Gluten Free
    From what I read …… if you have oats in a facility, then that facility cannot advertise or promote that they are Gluten Free. If this is so, then CFIA is not catching this when they inspect.
    And I am one of the 3 – 5 % that has a problem with oats.

    Comment by | August 30, 2012 | Reply

    • From the CFIA website: scroll down to section 9.9.4, and it lists the grains that can not be in any food that is represented as Gluten Free. As far as the CFIA is concerned, having oats in a “GF” product is the same as having wheat, rye or barley in a “GF” product.

      Glutenfreeda is a company that makes GF oatmeal and granola in the US. They brought their products to Canada and the CFIA made them remove not only their Gluten Free claim (the boxes say Wheat Free in Canada), but they’re not even allowed to put the brand name “Glutenfreeda” on it.

      One thing that may be causing some confusion – only actual ingredients must be listed on the packages and allergen information. As long as none of the ingredients are gluten containing, they can label the product as gluten free regardless of what other products are made in the same plant. In fact, products that contain wheat (or oats) can be made on the very same equipment, and still be labeled as gluten free. If you are really sensitive, and want to try a new product, your best bet is to contact the company and ask if their GF products are made in a dedicated facility or on dedicated equipment.

      One last note one the CFIA and inspections – the CFIA is mostly complaint driven. If they don’t receive any complaints regarding a company or product, a manufacturer could go without seeing an inspector for years.


      Comment by grocerystoreguru | August 31, 2012 | Reply

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