Food In Canada

Focus on Food Safety: Novel foods take novel food safety approaches

By Dr. Amy Proulx   

Food Safety Specialty Foods Canadian Food Inspection Agency Cultivated food Editor pick Health Canada Novel foods

Animal agriculture has a mixed reputation for sustainability and climate impact, prompting many organizations to look at novel practices to meet consumer demands. Using cell culture-based meat and protein foods is one strategy, and food safety questions must be addressed before the technology can be fully commercialized.


Food products derived from the culture of cells in biofermentation systems have been produced for decades and approved for sale in Canada. Initially, the emphasis was on enzymes for food production, such as expression of rennet. Other examples include expression of leghemoglobin for use in vegan meat substitutes, or synthesis of fucosyllactose for toddler formulas. What is new is that animal cells are being cultured in mass quantity for the first time with the intent of using the cells as food, rather than using them as biofactories for proteins and molecules.

Given the high precision and control of biofermentation, a high degree of food safety is expected.


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) held a joint task force on evaluating food safety issues of cell-based meat products. They released their initial findings in April 2023. Their emphasis was on a systematic approach to food safety. They anticipate cell-sourcing, cell growth and production, cell harvesting, and food processing to carry some risks.

Using a risk-based methodology, the FAO-WHO taskforce investigated consumer perceptions for naming cell-based meat products, noting that consistency of factual terms surrounding the tech will help build confidence in the product’s safety and quality.

Codex Alimentarius is also expected to have a framework for standard of identity related to cell-based meat by year end.


In Canada, novel foods are evaluated by Health Canada and CFIA for safety prior to public release. Manufacturers, producers, importers, and other interested parties can apply for approval. It is up to the applicant to provide a comprehensive report evaluating the product’s safety considerations. This officially includes descriptions of the novel food and how the food will be used, typical dietary exposure, nutrition, toxicology, allergenicity, chemical considerations, and other food safety issues.

For novel plants, this would also include potential for gene flow to native species, potential for becoming a weed or invasive plant, and impact on biodiversity. For all novel foods, a method of analysis and detection must be provided in the application. It’s anticipated that Health Canada would use a synthesis of this methodology when evaluating cell-based meats and other cultured protein products.

Health Canada lists novel foods that have been approved, as well as foods that are deemed not novel. Currently, it has extensive decision-making processes for novel plant-based foods, and it’s anticipated a similar rigour will apply for novel cell-based meat.

Health Canada did a consultation process on labelling of plant-based meat substitutes, and simulated meats in 2020. It found Canadians wanted clarity on labelling requirements. Similarly, the labelling of cell-based meat and protein products will be vitally important for consumer confidence and acceptance.

The technology for cell-based meat is possible, and the technology is available right now. However, substantial research is needed to enhance the affordability of the product compared to conventional meat or other food protein sources.

Canadian companies and academic groups have formed the Cellular Agriculture Canada group to advocate for industry, including regulatory and food safety approvals. As production scales, there will be need for workforce training specific to this industry.

While cell-based meat is capturing a large proportion of attention, there are several Canadian companies who are looking at plant-based proteins to create better quality analogue products. These companies are not facing the same regulatory barriers for novelty as they have emphasized plant-based ingredients with histories of safe use. Instead, their primary regulatory barrier is labelling and general food safety. 

At the time of writing this article, no cell-based meat, dairy or seafood products were approved by Health Canada. 

Dr. Amy Proulx is professor and academic program co-ordinator for the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology programs at Niagara College, Ont. She can be reached via email at

This column was originally published in the August/September 2023 issue of Food in Canada.

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