HACCP Programs were introduced to Canadian food processors in 1990 and then mandated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to the entire industry in 2005. In April 2008 the CFIA introduced its Compliance Verification System (CVS) to better define its and industry’s roles in the management of food safety programs.
In July The Vancouver Sun and the National Post published several editorials claiming CVS was, “A government plan to transfer key parts of food inspection to industry so companies can police themselves [and which] will put the health of Canadians at risk, according to leading safety experts who have reviewed the confidential blueprint.” How these “experts” arrived at this conclusion is baffling. Here are some facts about CVS that will benefit food safety.
• CVS clarifies that the CFIA’s mandate is to ensure that our foods are safe, nutritious and are what they claim to be by providing the administrative and scientific infrastructure as well as inspection systems to the food industry. It is industry’s responsibility to implement and to work with these systems.
• CVS enhances CFIA’s oversight of existing HACCP programs with standardized verification procedures performed by the resident inspector. The frequency and focus of these tasks is determined by the degree of food safety risk for the products made, processes employed and the firm’s compliance history. Lower risk products and fewer problems mean fewer verification activities. CVS reduces duplication of regulatory oversight by integrating a system of monthly CFIA plant inspections, other programs like MCAP and quarterly HACCP audits conducted by the resident inspector(s) who were occasionally assisted by their supervisors, into one program.
• CVS doesn’t remove local inspectors from processing plants as the Sun and Post claim. In fact, resident inspectors should have more time for regular duties and to follow up on new issues that may arise from the CVS activities.
• CVS procedures will both clarify and standardize compliance standards across the industry. CFIA staff will be using the same standards across Canada. Although standardization is desirable, industry fears the CFIA staff will be applying unreasonably high, inappropriate and/or outdated standards as the program is phased in. The authors of CVS have recognized that compliance issues will occur and have implemented procedures in Chapter 14 to attempt to address these situations. Processors, nevertheless, are quite concerned and are forming alliances to address such issues as they arise individually and collectively. Frankly, this is a good development.
• CVS activities will also include overseeing sanitation programs in more detail. This is, in my opinion, an important enhancement over the old program. Sanitation is usually done on the graveyard shift and is frequently considered the least desirable of all jobs. Yet good sanitation is undeniably critical to food safety.
Having CFIA inspectors not only reviewing Standard Sanitation Operating Procedures (SSOPs) but also being on the floor when sanitation is taking place, will both improve sanitation and elevate the profile of this critical activity.