Food In Canada

Opinion

Safe Foods for Canadians Act: More than meets the eye


With summer now well behind us and a month of schools back in session, food processors should be doing their homework by studying the Safe Foods for Canadian Act (SFCA) and regulations to assess the act’s implications on their operations. More to the point, they should be determining whether their food safety programs are compliant with the SFCA and regulations, or will be before January 15, 2019 and/or July 15, 2020 when the SFCA and regulations come into effect.
Everything you may need to know is not explicitly stated in the published text of the SFCA and regulations.

Be Aware
Many food processors were happy to learn that the SFCA was to be an outcome-based program, giving food processors the freedom to innovate as long as they could demonstrate that what they were doing produced safe and compliant food products. However, some food processors preferred having a prescriptive program which told them what they had to do because this approach takes a lot of guess work out of achieving compliance.
Regardless of which camp you happen to be in, be aware that the SFCA makes broad statements and there is considerable room for interpretation.
Whether due to concerns expressed by CFIA inspection staff or in response to concerns from industry, the CFIA is now attempting to “explain” the requirements and/or expectations behind the broad statements within the SFCA and regulations by publishing “guidance” documents on its website. Here are two links:

Regulatory requirements

Conducting a hazard analysis

After visiting these links, I came away with the feeling that inspectors will have considerable latitude in determining compliance. This is particularly concerning in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak when all the fingers are pointing at the food processor that has to defend its interpretation of the regulations.
It would be prudent for food processors to go above and beyond achieving what I call “superficial” regulatory compliance by doing more than the bare minimum. Food processors are advised to have food safety programs that would make their shareholders, defense lawyers and even their mothers proud of them.

Sharing, Sharing, Sharing
Industry has asked the CFIA to share the interpretive guidance documents the agency provides to its inspectors. Sharing these guidance documents with industry could have many benefits. For example:

  1. Having everyone working off the same interpretation or points of reference;
  2. Providing CFIA inspectors the opportunity to review with food processors the guidance documents after publication to establish and enhance communication between the parties;
  3. Reducing friction between food processors and inspectors;
  4. Permitting food processors to proactively make improvements and/or adjustments to their food safety programs based on current interpretations of the SFCA and Regulations.

If the CFIA continues to dig its heels in and refuse to share its interpretive and guidance documents, food processors should start sharing their own experiences within their industry sectors. I recognize that this won’t be easy but it can be done anonymously through industry-specific associations and/or through an umbrella association such as the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition whose members are most of the food industry associations.
There is far more upside through sharing our experiences with the SFCA and Regulations than there is downside, especially in these early days.
Does anyone have the courage to look a child in the eye and tell them not to share the things that can help others?
If this doesn’t convince you to share, then perhaps Michael McCain’s message will: “Food safety is not a competitive advantage.”

Acknowledgement
I would like to thank Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition executive director Albert Chambers for bringing this matter to my attention and for providing much of the information used in this article.

Dr. R.J. (Ron) Wasik PhD, MBA, CFS, is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd. in Delta, B.C. Contact him via [email protected]


Ron Wasik

Ron Wasik

Ron is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd., specializing in technical services to the food processing and foodservice industries.
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