Ottawa – Canada’s Auditor General has some concerns when it comes to Canada’s performance.
In its 2013 Fall Report, the Auditor General outlined several areas that need improvement and one of those was food safety.
The Auditor General says it examined whether the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), with the support of Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, adequately manages the food recall system. The AG also examined each step of the food recall process, from when a food safety concern is first brought to the CFIA’s attention to follow-up actions taken to identify and correct the underlying cause of the recall.
The AG found that the first three steps in the CFIA’s food recall process – from when a food safety issue is first identified to conducting the investigation and making recall decisions – generally work well. This is especially true when recalls are not managed using emergency procedures.
The report looked at 59 recalls. The AG found the CFIA initiated a food safety investigation promptly and issued its recall decision within eight days in all but 10 cases.
In those 10 cases, the response was delayed by more complex investigative work. Also, when required, the CFIA issued public warnings within 24 hours. The CFIA also verified that the recalled products had been removed from the marketplace.
But the process had some weaknesses. The report found those weaknesses in the CFIA’s follow-up activities after a product has been removed from the marketplace.
The CFIA did not have the documentation it is required to collect to verify that recalling firms had appropriately disposed of recalled products or taken timely actions to identify and correct the underlying cause of the recall to reduce the likelihood of a food safety issue reoccurring.
The AG also reviewed three large-scale recalls that happened in 2012.
The report found that those recalls were managed under the CFIA’s emergency procedures, but showed that these procedures have not been finalized or tested regularly.
Changes in governance structures and decision-making processes that are triggered when an emergency response plan is activated are not well understood by officials, says the report. This lead to confusion, particularly for those who are normally responsible for leading and managing food safety investigations and recalls.
In the high-profile recalls in which emergency procedures were activated, the CFIA did not adequately document the considerations, analysis, and rationale for important food safety decisions or communicate this information to key stakeholders. Despite these shortcomings, there were no further illnesses associated with these recalls.
The weaknesses the audit identified relate partly to some long-standing issues.
For example, the CFIA’s guidance for managing food safety investigations and recalls is incomplete, unclear, and not finalized on a timely basis. This can lead to confusion about responsibilities and the actions that must be taken at all stages in the investigation and recall process.
The AG noted many examples of incomplete documentation of important decisions and key steps in the recall process. As a result, the Agency does not know that its recall activities are carried out across the country consistently and according to policies, procedures, and requirements.
In the report the AG did go onto make several recommendations on how the CFIA can improve it’s food recall procedures.
One recommendation, for example, is that the CFIA should clarify the information it needs and should require industry to maintain this information in a complete, accessible, and immediately usable format.
For registered establishments, inspectors should regularly validate that the information maintained by the establishment is complete and accessible.
For more on the recommendations and the report, click here.