Everyone loves food. But when you have a food allergy simple things like grocery shopping, dining out or being invited to a dinner party with friends can be extremely challenging.

According to the Not-For-Profit agency ‘Food Allergy Canada’, there are over 2.6 million Canadians, including almost 500,000 children, living with food allergies. As there is no cure for food allergies, avoidance is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction from occurring.

Today, there are over 170 foods that can cause an allergic reaction.

The Best Deli Meats for People with Food Allergies

Common Allergens found in Deli Meats


Grocery shopping presents a multitude of challenges when purchasing packaged, ready-to-eat or processed foods and deli meats are no exception. Soy as vegetable protein or textured vegetable protein can be found in common deli meat, sausages and hot dogs. Soy is a popular added ingredient in many processed food because it’s high in protein.

Lactose/Other Milk Products

Those who are lactose intolerant may think they can eat a sandwich if the sandwich contains no cheese. However, some deli meat may have hidden traces of milk products.

Dairy products like casein, lactose, and caseinates are often added to deli meats to flavor the meat and act as an emulsifier.

Wheat and Gluten

If you have a gluten or wheat allergy, you will want to be careful when buying deli meat. These ingredients or their derivatives are especially common in ham, salami and hot dogs.

How to Shop for Deli Meats when you have a Food Allergy

Read the Actual Ingredients

In Canada common allergens must be listed on the label under the ingredients. For example, “contains soy”. And derivatives of common allergens contained in the ingredients under a different name, like soy based vegetable protein, must be identified by the common allergen “contains soy”.

Contact the Company

Anxiety is common and justified when you’re shopping for yourself or a family member with a food allergy. Deli meats are a household favorite because they are tasty and convenient, and kids love them. Find a brand that you can trust, a company that is transparent and accessible when you need details.

Be Cautious at the Deli Counter

There is a myth that deli meat sliced at the deli counter is healthier, or fresher. Some believe it contains fewer preservatives, but this is not necessarily true. Unless the roast is cooked in-house or made by a company that does not use preservatives, it is still a processed meat product with added ingredients.

Therefore, buying from the deli counter may be riskier for those with food allergies due to hidden ingredients and/or cross-contamination. Don’t be afraid to explain your allergy to the deli clerk and ask for a list of the actual ingredients of the product. You can also ask that the slicer be cleaned prior to processing your order.

Other Additives

Deli meats are not created equal. Avoiding allergens might be a necessity, but avoiding harmful preservatives and additives is also important. Times have changed and many companies are offering deli products that are allergy friendly, but they are still using traditional curing methods that include nitrites. Many “natural” deli meats still contain nitrites in the form of celery extracts.

Buying organic ensures that the animals are humanely raised without the use of antibiotics and are fed a non-GMO diet of plant based foods. But buying organic deli meat, like bacon and ham, does not mean they are free of nitrites. Celery extracts are bio-chemically identical to sodium nitrite but because they are “naturally” derived from celery, they are currently allowed. And since celery is an emerging allergen it’s important to be aware of this relatively new ingredient in deli meats.

About McLean Meats

McLean was the first company in Canada to produce nitrite free deli meats. We are still the only company in Canada whose entire product line is truly preservative free. What separates McLean from other deli brands is that our entire product line if free of gluten, dairy and soy, and their derivatives. All our deli meats are free of preservatives, nitrites and celery extracts and our animals are humanely raised without antibiotics. Contact us anytime with questions about our products and their ingredients.

At McLean, our mission matters.

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