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Canada Proposes to Strengthen Food Safety Regulations

Canada is proposing to update its food safety regulations in order to strengthen its reputation as a leader in food safety by establishing consistent, prevention-focused requirements for food that is imported or prepared for export or inter-provincial trade. The proposed regulations would consolidate 13 food commodity-based regulations plus the food-related provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations into a single and more outcome-based food regulation. Some requirements for certain food sectors would be phased in to reflect business size and different levels of industry readiness, while plain language tools and guidance would be provided to support small businesses that are involved in importing food or preparing food for export or inter-provincial trade.

The proposed regulations would establish the following three key food safety elements.

Licences
Licences would be required for food importers and persons (e.g., food businesses) preparing food for export or inter-provincial trade, with some exceptions, as well as persons slaughtering food animals from which meat products for export or inter-provincial trade may be derived. Licence applications would require certain information from the applicant regarding their identity (e.g., business name) and business activities, which would inform risk­based oversight. The proposed licence would be valid for a period of two years for a fee of approximately CAN$250 and could be suspended or cancelled in cases of non­compliance. Regulated parties would be able to apply for one or multiple licences.

Traceability
The proposed regulations would apply the international standard for traceability established by Codex to persons importing, exporting and inter-provincially trading food, as well as other persons holding a licence issued under the Safe Food for Canadians Act and growers and harvesters of fresh fruits or vegetables that are to be exported or traded inter-provincially. Electronic or paper records would be required to be prepared and kept in order to track food forward to the immediate customer (e.g., a retailer or another food business) and backwards to the immediate supplier (i.e., one step forward, one step back along the supply chain).

Retailers would not be required to trace forward their sales to consumers. Traceability information would have to be provided, upon the minister’s request, within 24 hours, some shorter period if the information is considered necessary to identify or respond to a risk of injury to human health, or some longer period if the information is not considered necessary for a recall that is or may be ordered. The information would need to be provided in French or English and, where electronic, in a format that could be imported and manipulated by standard commercial software. The information would also need to be accessible in Canada.

Preventive Controls and Preventive Control Plan
Food subject to the regulations and activities (e.g., importing and preparing meat products for export or inter-provincial trade) would have to meet food safety requirements and those activities would have to be conducted in a manner that is consistent with internationally recognised agricultural and manufacturing practices (i.e., GAPs, GMPs and HACCP). The proposal addresses the following key preventive control elements: sanitation, pest control and non­food agents; conveyances and equipment; conditions respecting establishments; unloading, loading and storing; competency (i.e., for staff); hygiene; communicable diseases and lesions; and investigation and notification, complaints and recall.

In addition to the three key food safety elements, certain commodity­specific requirements for food safety would remain in place where appropriate. For example, the current regulations require imported meat products to be sourced from a country with an inspection system that is approved by the minister under the Meat Inspection Act. This requirement would be maintained in the proposed regulations. With some exceptions, regulated parties would be required to produce and maintain a written PCP demonstrating how the preventive controls and other requirements (e.g., for packaging and labelling) are met. Where appropriate, regulated parties would have the flexibility to apply the preventive controls and other measures on an outcome­based approach that demonstrates that their operations and food products comply with the proposed regulations.

The steps related to the preparation of a PCP would be based on HACCP principles and would include, where applicable:

  • a description of the biological, chemical and physical hazards that could contaminate the food, the measures used to prevent or eliminate those hazards, and evidence that the measures are effective;
  • a description of critical control points (steps at which a control can be applied and that is essential to prevent or eliminate the hazard), their related control measures, and evidence that they are effective;
  • a description of the critical limits (i.e., the limit at which a hazard is acceptable without compromising food safety) for each critical control point;
  • the procedures for monitoring the critical control points in relation to their critical limits;
  • a description of the corrective action procedures for each critical control point;
  • a description of the procedures used to verify the implementation that the PCP meets the requirements of the Safe Food for Canadians Act and the proposed regulations; and
  • documents that demonstrate that the information has been recorded and the PCP has been implemented with respect to the fore-going.

Subject to certain exceptions, a written PCP would be required for every licence holder who imports food or prepares food to be sent or conveyed from one province to another; every person who grows or harvests fresh fruits or vegetables to be exported or to be sent or conveyed from one province to another; every licence holder preparing fish products or meat products to be exported; and every person, including a licence holder, exporting food who requires or requests an export certificate from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Exemptions from licencing, preventive controls and written PCP requirements are also being considered, unless an export certificate is requested, for alcoholic beverages, food additives and some unprocessed foods that will be further prepared (e.g., grains, oilseeds, pulses and other foods such as green coffee beans and hops). These foods must be labelled with the words “For Further Preparation Only” and may not be pre-packaged food for consumers. Importation or inter-provincial trade of non­compliant food to be subsequently brought into compliance (e.g., through relabelling the food) would be permitted provided that the food is imported by a licence holder, is clearly labelled with “For Further Preparation Only” and is brought into compliance within three months from the day on which it was imported or traded inter-provincially, unless a longer time period is granted by the minister.

Some of the requirements outlined above would enter into force immediately upon issuance of a final regulation while others would be phased in over a period ranging from one to three years.

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