The Canadian Food Safety System: Food Recalls
The Canadian food safety system is made up of many players that work together to protect Canadians from potentially dangerous foods. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)'s food recall process is one part of that system.
Food producers, manufacturers, importers and retailers use many controls and procedures to protect the safety of their products. However, on occasion, for many different reasons, a product may be sold that poses a health risk.
A food recall is an action taken by a company to remove unsafe food products from the market. In Canada, the majority of food recalls are coordinated by the CFIA.
As part of the food recall process, the CFIA works in collaboration with its federal partners in food safety, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), as well as provincial and territorial health authorities.
The CFIA conducts the food safety investigations and ensures the effectiveness of the recall, while Health Canada provides CFIA with assessments of food safety risks. PHAC investigates whether any illnesses are linked to the recalled products and leads the response to foodborne illness outbreaks that occur in more than one province or territory.
Most recalls in Canada are voluntary, which means that the recalls are initiated and carried out by the responsible company. The CFIA works with the company to ensure that the recall was effective at removing products from the market.
However, in the event that a company is unable or refuses to voluntarily recall a product, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has the power to order a mandatory recall for products that pose a health risk.
The Recall Process
There are different triggers that start a food safety investigation, which could lead to a food recall. These can include:
- reports by public health officials,
- consumer and industry complaints,
- foodborne illness outbreaks,
- CFIA inspections and testing and sampling programs,
- information from other government departments,
- reports from international partners, and
- company-initiated concerns found through its own sampling
In some circumstances, unsafe food is found because people become ill. In that case, provincial and/or territorial public health officials conduct a disease outbreak investigation to determine if food is the source of the outbreak. This includes interviewing people who have become sick and conducting laboratory testing.
If a food source is identified, the CFIA will conduct a food safety investigation and take any necessary action to ensure unsafe food products are removed from the market.
Food Safety Investigation
The goal of a food safety investigation is to determine whether a food product poses a risk and to determine the type and extent of the problem. Investigations are conducted in a thorough, consistent and timely manner.
The CFIA will traceback the food product from the retail level through distribution to the production or processing facilities to find the suspected source of the problem.
The CFIA will provide this information to Health Canada who will determine the level of risk of the situation. This process is called a health risk assessment.
The CFIA and Health Canada work as quickly as possible to reach a decision about the potential health risk to the public. The level of risk contributes to determining the types of food recall.There are three types of food recalls:
- Class I recalls (High risk): A Class I recall is initiated for a food product when there is a high risk that eating or drinking that product will lead to serious health problems or death. The CFIA issues a public warning for all Class I recall when the product is available for sale or could be in the consumer’s home. (See official definition)
- Class II recalls (Moderate risk): A Class II recall is initiated for a food product when eating or drinking that product will most likely lead to short-term or non-life threatening health problems. The chance of any serious health symptoms is low in healthy populations.
- The CFIA issues a public warning for some Class II recalls based on the risk assessment and other criteria, such as the severity of symptoms in vulnerable populations (children, pregnant women, seniors, etc.) (See official definition)
- Class III recalls (Low and no risk): A Class III recall is initiated when eating or drinking that product will not likely result in any undesirable health effects. Class III recalls can include food products that pose no health and safety risk, but do not follow federal food regulations. (See official definition)
- As soon as the CFIA can identify an unsafe product, the Agency takes immediate action to remove product from the marketplace.
- Depending on the level of risk, the CFIA will issue a warning to notify the public through the media. The warning is also posted to the CFIA Web site and sent out to its subscriber e-mail list.
Get the latest updates
A record of all recalls (Class I, II and III), including those that did not include a public warning, can be found in our Food Recall Reports.
It is the responsibility of industry to remove the product from sale or distribution.
Follow-up recalls and action
CFIA officials will check to verify that the recalling firm has successfully removed the product from the marketplace. If the recalling firm is unwilling to remove the product for sale and appropriately dispose of it, the CFIA may seize and detain the product.
The CFIA will also continue to investigate the underlying issues that may have contributed to the source of the food safety hazard. For example, if a pathogen, such as E.coli, is identified in a food product, the CFIA will investigate to determine the source of this contamination.
During these investigations, the CFIA may identify additional products that were affected or are potentially unsafe. In these situations, the CFIA will immediately issue expanded food recall warnings to the public and media. This may result in multiple recall warnings related to one food safety investigation.
Once the recall is complete, and the affected products have been removed from store shelves, the CFIA continues to work with the manufacturer or retailer to help ensure that problem is resolved.
Additional Information on Food Recalls
- Date modified: