Food safety concerns contained in the Safe Food for Canadians Act
The long-anticipated official draft of the regulations proposed under the Safe Foods for Canadians Act (SFCA) appeared on Jan. 21, 2017. Canada’s agri-food sector now has until April 21, 2017 to comment to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on the proposed regulations. Many sectors of our agri-food supply chain will likely have some concerns, particularly with portions of the regulations that affect their sector. Here are some of my concerns.
The 2015 “Pre-SFCR-Canada Gazette” draft defined a control measure as “Any action and/or activity that can be used to minimize, control, prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level.” This wording is consistent with CODEX. However, the Preventative Controls section of the SFCR-CG1 does not use the words “minimize” and “reduce it (hazard) to an acceptable level.” The Glossary of Key Terms (Glossary) accompanying the SFCR-CG1 also defines “critical control point” and “control measure” as measures or steps “to prevent or eliminate any biological, chemical or physical hazard.” This is very concerning as it implies that a hazard must be entirely prevented or eliminated. This wording is not consistent with CODEX. Whether by editorial oversight or for some other reason, the Glossary’s definitions for “preventative control” and “validation” use terms more in line with CODEX, but this is not reflected in the text of the SFCR-CG1. Clarification is needed.
Investigation & notification, complaints & recall
The SFCR-CG1 states that “The operator must immediately notify the Minister of the results of their investigation (of a food safety hazard) and immediately take action to mitigate any risk…” This action is necessary if the goods in question are no longer in the control of the operator. However, in my opinion, there is no need to notify the Minister “immediately” if the goods in question are still in the control of the operator, and especially if the goods have not left the operator’s facility. There is no immediate risk to the public. Notification to the Minister must still take place on a timely basis.
Preventative control plans (PCP)
I don’t think I am the only person whose understanding of a PCP is that it encompasses a detailed analysis of food safety hazards, including prerequisite programs, HACCP plans, SOPs, SSOPs and other measures to ensure safe and wholesome foods. However, when the SFCRs are in place, labelling, standards of identity and net-quantity regulations will also need to become part of a firm’s PCP for each of their products.
A key part of the SFCA was requiring importers to abide by the same regulations that our domestic agri-food producers and processors must work under. Without exception, all importers will need to be licensed with the CFIA. Canadian importers must ensure that their suppliers are capable of producing goods to the same standards required by Canadian regulations. This will include ensuring that the foreign supplier has competent individuals to manage the applicable, Canadian-equivalent PCP. I was surprised to learn that importers in Canada are not required to have food safety-trained (competent) staff to assess the PCPs of their foreign suppliers but can use third-party consultants. Given that every company (foreign or domestic) has a different format for its PCP, this will be a gold mine for consultants and a nightmare for the CFIA.
When SFCRs come into force importers will be required to provide the CFIA with extensive information about the product being imported “before the import or, in the case of a food other than a meat product, at any other time authorized by the Minister.” All importers will also have to “pay the applicable fee set out in the Fees Notice.”
The metrics in the SFCR-CG1 that the CFIA is proposing to use to measure the effectiveness of the Agency and the SFCRs (outcomes) will not reveal how effective the Agency and the SFCR have been on improving food safety. I’ll write about this and budgeting in my next column.
To learn more about and to comment on the SFCR-CG1, visit www.inspection.gc.ca/AskCFIA or www.inspection.gc.ca/StayConnected, or email [email protected]
Dr. R.J. (Ron) Wasik, PhD, MBA, CFS, is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd. Contact him at [email protected]