Food Safety Investigation and Recall Process

View our detailed explanation of the food safety investigation and recall:

What is it?

The food safety investigation and recall process is initiated when there is reason to believe that a potentially contaminated food has reached the marketplace.

The Canadian food supply is one of the safest in the world. However, no food safety system can guarantee zero risk. At any point in the production system, food can become contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals, undeclared allergens or material such as glass or metal fragments.

Food Safety Investigation and Recall Process

Description: Food Safety Investigation and Recall Process

A woman figure holding a note pad stands at the beginning of a path representing the Food Safety Investigation and Recall Process. The path has an "S" shape to it and will guide the woman figure through all of the 5 necessary steps.

Step one of the process is the triggers, identified on the path by a large blue circle with a one in the middle.

Step number two is identified on the path as a large yellowish gold circle with a two in the middle. This is the food safety investigation and it has three steps within it. These steps are represented on the path by three yellowish-gold circles following the larger yellowish-gold circle with a two in the middle.

Step three of the process is the Health Risk Assessment and it is represented on the path by a large orange circle with a three in the middle.

Step four is the recall process and is represented on the path by a large red circle with a four in the middle. The recall process has four steps within it. These four steps are represented on the path by 4 smaller red circles.

The final and fifth step is the follow up. It is represented on the path by a large black circle with a five in the middle.

Initiating the Investigation/Recall Process

There are several triggers that start a food safety investigation, which could lead to a food recall.

With this tool you can learn about how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) carries out its investigation and recall activities in response to these triggers.

Select a trigger

Illness outbreak

Public health officials identify a food as the potential cause of illness during a foodborne illness outbreak investigation by asking people who have become sick what they ate and by conducting laboratory testing.

The CFIA will launch a food safety investigation when it is suspected that food has made people ill.

Food Safety Investigation

  • Food safety investigations are complex and involve several essential steps to determine if a food recall is required and what products to recall.
  • When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA acts as quickly as possible to collect information and make decisions.
  • Investigations are carried out by a variety of experts at the CFIA, including inspection staff.

Objectives

Objectives

  • To identify which foods could be contaminated and with what
  • To determine if there is a risk of more people becoming ill
  • To determine how far in the food distribution system a potentially harmful product has been distributed (i.e. manufacturer/importer, distributor, retail or consumer level)
  • To determine if a recall and/or other action (e.g. detention of product or suspension of operating licence) is needed to protect consumers
  • To identify the root cause of the problem, if possible

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

  • During an illness outbreak the CFIA traces the product back from where the people who became ill consumed it.
  • CFIA experts determine where the food was purchased and, ultimately, where it originated.
  • By tracing the food product back to its production or processing facility or to an importer, CFIA experts can try to pinpoint where the problem occurred.
  • In order to determine what specific food products to recall, the CFIA must trace food products forward from where the suspected problem occurred. For example, if it is suspected that the problem occurred at a production or processing facility, the CFIA will trace forward to determine where that facility distributed its product.
  • CFIA experts must obtain, sort and analyze a great deal of distribution information, such as where in Canada the food was sold and in what stores. Food products may be sold to other companies that repackage them or use them as an ingredient in other products, making the traceforward work even more complex.
  • CFIA experts work with industry to accurately identify recalled products by brand name, code, UPC, label, package, expiry/best before date and/or date of purchase. This detailed information is vital to warn consumers to avoid potentially harmful foods and to ensure that retailers remove these products from store shelves.

On-Site Activities

On-site activities

  • Once potentially harmful food is traced back to a production or processing facility or to an importer, CFIA inspectors immediately conduct an on-site visit and may:
    • observe processing or production practices;
    • review documented procedures;
    • observe/inspect equipment and conditions;
    • secure production and distribution records;
    • verify accuracy and completeness of information;
    • collect food samples and send for laboratory testing;
    • identify the possible root cause of the problem;
    • determine when the problem started and ended; or
    • identify corrective actions (if required) the company should take.
  • What inspectors observe, collect and document on-site is a critical piece of the food safety investigation.

Health Risk Assessment

  • If a potential health risk has been identified, a formal, written request for a health risk assessment (HRA) is submitted to Health Canada.
  • The purpose of an HRA is to determine what level of risk a specific food presents for the Canadian population.

Recall Process

  • A food recall is an action taken by a company to remove potentially unsafe food products or products from the market that do not comply with relevant laws. It is the responsibility of industry to remove the product from sale or distribution.
  • The CFIA's role is to inform the public, oversee implementation of the recall and verify that industry has removed recalled products from store shelves.
  • The CFIA oversees approximately 250 recall incidents a year.
  • Most recalls in Canada are voluntary; this means that the recalls are initiated and carried out by the responsible company, with oversight from the CFIA. If a company is unable or refuses to voluntarily recall a product, the Minister of Health has the power to order a mandatory recall for products that pose a health risk.

Decision Making

Decision Making

  • When a health risk has been established by Health Canada through an HRA, the CFIA determines the most appropriate risk management action, including whether or not to recall product.
  • When the CFIA determines a recall is necessary, it also decides what class to assign to the recall.
  • The decision to assign one of the following three classes of recall is based heavily on the level of risk established by Health Canada during the HRA:
    • Class I (high risk): There is a high risk that eating or drinking the food product will lead to serious health problems or death.
    • Class II (moderate risk): Eating or drinking the food 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.
    • Class III (low and no risk): Eating or drinking the food product will not likely result in any undesirable health effects. This category can include food products that pose no health and safety risk, but do not comply with relevant laws (e.g. a product has more than the allowed level of an additive or preservative)

Recall Implementation

Recall Implementation

  • When it is determined that a recall is necessary, the CFIA requests that the recalling firm initiate a voluntary recall.
  • The recalling firm is responsible for immediately contacting all of its accounts (e.g. distributors or retailers) that received recalled product.
  • The CFIA closely monitors the recalling firm's activities and provides guidance or assistance when needed.

Informing the Public

Informing the Public

  • Informing the public about high risk recalls is critical as consumers may have recalled product in their homes.
  • Depending on the level of risk (i.e. class of recall), the CFIA will issue an alert to notify the public through the media within 24 hours of making a recall decision.
  • The CFIA issues a public alert for Class I and some Class II recalls and sends an email to subscribers of the recall email service.
  • Information on all recalls is posted to the CFIA website. The CFIA also makes recall information available via Twitter, RSS feeds, widgets and a free downloadable mobile application for smartphone devices.
  • In some situations, the CFIA also provides media technical briefings.
  • Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA sometimes issues public alerts while investigations are ongoing. As the Agency identifies additional recalled products through the course of an investigation, it will issue additional public alerts in order keep consumers informed of potential risk.

Recall Verification Activities

Recall Verification Activities

  • If food has been recalled, it is the responsibility of industry to remove it from the marketplace immediately.
  • The CFIA conducts effectiveness checks to verify unsafe food has been removed from store shelves.
  • If the recall is determined to be ineffective, the CFIA will request the firm to redo the recall or will recommend that the Minister of Health issue a mandatory recall if required.
  • If a firm is unwilling to remove the product from sale and appropriately dispose of it, the CFIA may seize and detain the product.
  • The CFIA will also verify the company has handled the recalled product correctly. For example, if the recalling firm chooses to dispose of the recalled product in a landfill, CFIA experts may oversee the transportation of the product to ensure appropriate disposal.

Follow Up

Follow Up

  • Once the recall is complete, and the recalled products have been removed from store shelves, the CFIA continues to work with the processor, manufacturer or importer to ensure that any problems that led to the recall are resolved.
  • During the food safety investigation, the CFIA may have requested the company to take corrective actions to prevent the problem from reoccurring and avoid subsequent recalls. This could include changes to a plant's sanitation program or operating procedures.
  • CFIA inspection staff will monitor the company to ensure any required corrective actions are implemented effectively. The CFIA may heighten oversight and sampling and testing for a defined period of time to ensure the problem does not reoccur.
  • The CFIA may review standards and policies as needed to determine whether revisions are necessary.
  • The Agency sometimes works with industry sectors or foreign countries to address trends that go beyond a particular company, sector or recall.
Food test result

The CFIA will launch a food safety investigation when a food tests positive for a bacteria, undeclared allergen, chemical contaminant, virus, parasite or material such as glass that could pose a health risk (e.g. Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 or melamine).

The CFIA regularly samples and tests food to identify trends, provide information on the occurrence and levels of contaminants in food and to investigate any suspected problems.

In addition, the CFIA can be alerted to a possible health risk through food test results obtained by industry, a provincial or territorial government or even another country through routine testing of imported Canadian food products at its border.

Food Safety Investigation

  • Food safety investigations are complex and involve several essential steps to determine if a food recall is required and what products to recall.
  • When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA acts as quickly as possible to collect information and make decisions.
  • Investigations are carried out by a variety of experts at the CFIA, including inspection staff.

Objectives

Objectives

  • To determine if there is a health risk
  • To identify which foods could be contaminated and with what
  • To determine how far in the food distribution system a potentially harmful product has been distributed (i.e. manufacturer/importer, distributor, retail or consumer level)
  • To determine if a recall and/or other action (e.g. detention of product or suspension of operating licence) is needed to protect consumers
  • To identify the root cause of the problem, if possible (i.e. where the contamination occurred)

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

  • CFIA experts trace the positive food sample back from where it was sampled to its production or processing facility or to an importer.
  • If the food product had been sampled from a production line, traceback activities are less complex. Sometimes food is sampled further along the distribution chain (e.g. at an international border), and this can make tracing it back to its origins more complex and time intensive.
  • By tracing the food product back to its production or processing facility or to an importer, CFIA experts can try to pinpoint where the problem occurred.
  • In order to determine what specific food products to recall, the CFIA must trace food products forward from where the suspected problem occurred. For example, if it is suspected that the problem occurred at a production or processing facility, the CFIA will trace forward to determine where that facility distributed its product.
  • CFIA experts must obtain, sort and analyze a great deal of distribution information such as where in Canada the food was sold and in what stores. Food products may be sold to other companies that repackage them or use them as an ingredient in other products, making the traceforward work even more complex.
  • CFIA experts work with industry to accurately identify recalled products by brand name, code, UPC, label, package, expiry/best before date and/or date of purchase. This detailed information is vital to warn consumers to avoid potentially harmful foods and to ensure that retailers remove these products from store shelves.

On-Site Activities

On-site activities

  • Once potentially harmful food is traced back to a production or processing facility or to an importer, CFIA inspectors immediately conduct an on-site visit and may:
    • observe processing or production practices;
    • review documented procedures;
    • observe/inspect equipment and conditions;
    • secure production and distribution records;
    • verify accuracy and completeness of information;
    • collect additional food samples and send for laboratory testing;
    • identify the possible root cause of the problem;
    • determine when the problem started and ended; or
    • identify corrective actions (if required) the company should take.
  • What inspectors observe, collect and document on-site is a critical piece of the food safety investigation.

Health Risk Assessment

  • If a potential health risk has been identified, a formal, written request for a health risk assessment (HRA) is submitted to Health Canada.
  • The purpose of an HRA is to determine what level of risk a specific food presents for the Canadian population.

Recall Process

  • A food recall is an action taken by a company to remove potentially unsafe food products or products from the market that do not comply with relevant laws. It is the responsibility of industry to remove the product from sale or distribution.
  • The CFIA's role is to inform the public, oversee implementation of the recall and verify that industry has removed recalled products from store shelves.
  • The CFIA oversees approximately 250 recall incidents a year.
  • Most recalls in Canada are voluntary; this means that the recalls are initiated and carried out by the responsible company, with oversight from the CFIA. If a company is unable or refuses to voluntarily recall a product, the Minister of Health has the power to order a mandatory recall for products that pose a health risk.

Decision Making

Decision Making

  • When a health risk has been established by Health Canada through an HRA, the CFIA determines the most appropriate risk management action, including whether or not to recall product.
  • When the CFIA determines a recall is necessary, it also decides what class to assign to the recall.
  • The decision to assign one of the following three classes of recall is based heavily on the level of risk established by Health Canada during the HRA:
    • Class I (high risk): There is a high risk that eating or drinking the food product will lead to serious health problems or death.
    • Class II (moderate risk): Eating or drinking the food 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.
    • Class III (low and no risk): Eating or drinking the food product will not likely result in any undesirable health effects. This category can include food products that pose no health and safety risk, but do not comply with relevant laws (e.g. a product has more than the allowed level of an additive or preservative).

Recall Implementation

Decision Making

  • When it is determined that a recall is necessary, the CFIA requests that the recalling firm initiate a voluntary recall.
  • The recalling firm is responsible for immediately contacting all of its accounts (e.g. distributors or retailers) that received recalled product.
  • The CFIA closely monitors the recalling firm's activities and provides guidance or assistance when needed.

Informing the Public

Informing the Public

  • Informing the public about high risk recalls is critical as consumers may have recalled product in their homes.
  • Depending on the level of risk (i.e. class of recall), the CFIA will issue an alert to notify the public through the media within 24 hours of making a recall decision.
  • The CFIA issues a public alert for Class I and some Class II recalls and sends an email to subscribers of the recall email service.
  • Information on all recalls is posted to the CFIA website. The CFIA also makes recall information available via Twitter, RSS feeds, widgets and a free downloadable mobile application for smartphone devices.
  • In some situations, the CFIA also provides media technical briefings.
  • Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA sometimes issues public alerts while investigations are ongoing. As the Agency identifies additional recalled products through the course of an investigation, it will issue additional public alerts in order keep consumers informed of potential risk.

Recall Verification Activities

Informing the Public

  • If food has been recalled, it is the responsibility of industry to remove it from the marketplace immediately.
  • The CFIA conducts effectiveness checks to verify unsafe food has been removed from store shelves.
  • If the recall is determined to be ineffective, the CFIA will request the firm to redo the recall or will recommend that the Minister of Health issue a mandatory recall if required.
  • If a firm is unwilling to remove the product from sale and appropriately dispose of it, the CFIA may seize and detain the product.
  • The CFIA will also verify the company has handled the recalled product correctly. For example, if the recalling firm chooses to dispose of the recalled product in a landfill, CFIA experts may oversee the transportation of the product to ensure appropriate disposal.

Follow-Up

Follow Up

  • Once the recall is complete, and the recalled products have been removed from store shelves, the CFIA continues to work with the processor, manufacturer or importer to ensure that any problems that led to the recall are resolved.
  • During the food safety investigation, the CFIA may have requested the company to take corrective actions to prevent the problem from reoccurring and avoid subsequent recalls. This could include changes to a plant's sanitation program or operating procedures.
  • CFIA inspection staff will monitor the company to ensure any required corrective actions are implemented effectively. The CFIA may heighten oversight and sampling and testing for a defined period of time to ensure the problem does not reoccur.
  • The CFIA may review standards and policies as needed to determine whether revisions are necessary.
  • The Agency sometimes works with industry sectors or foreign countries to address trends that go beyond a particular company, sector or recall.
CFIA inspection finding

The CFIA will launch a food safety investigation when a CFIA inspector detects a food safety concern during regular inspection activities.

In addition to industry's in-house food safety plans and controls, the CFIA conducts inspections to ensure industry complies with all relevant laws.

A CFIA inspector may identify a food safety concern through his or her visual observation of products and manufacturing practices or analysis of company records on such things as:

  • preventative control plans;
  • sampling data and test results;
  • sanitation records;
  • employee hygiene;
  • cooking temperatures; and
  • ingredient controls.

Food Safety Investigation

  • Food safety investigations are complex and involve several essential steps to determine if a food recall is required and what products to recall.
  • When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA acts as quickly as possible to collect information and make decisions.
  • Investigations are carried out by a variety of experts at the CFIA, including inspection staff.

Objectives

Objectives

  • To determine if there is a health risk
  • To identify which foods could be contaminated and with what
  • To determine how far in the food distribution system a potentially harmful product has been distributed (i.e. manufacturer/importer, distributor, retail or consumer level)
  • To determine if a recall and/or other action (e.g. detention of product or suspension of operating licence) is needed to protect consumers
  • To identify the root cause of the problem, if possible

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

  • Traceback activities often involve following a food product back through a distribution chain from the last point of purchase to the product's origin (e.g. when the trigger is a consumer complaint). When an investigation is triggered by a CFIA inspection finding, a problem has already been identified in a specific facility.
  • In this case, traceback work involves pinpointing where and when in the production process the problem occurred. For example, if the CFIA observes inappropriate employee hygiene, the Agency determines all the areas of the facility in which the employee worked and when he or she did so.
  • In order to determine what specific food products to recall, the CFIA must trace food products forward from where the suspected problem occurred. For example, if it is suspected that the problem occurred on a particular production line, the CFIA will trace forward to determine where the products from that production line were distributed.
  • CFIA experts must obtain, sort and analyze a great deal of distribution information such as where in Canada the food was sold and in what stores. Food products may be sold to other companies that repackage them or use them as an ingredient in other products, making the traceforward work even more complex.
  • CFIA experts work with industry to accurately identify recalled products by brand name, code, UPC, label, package, expiry/best before date and/or date of purchase. This detailed information is vital to warn consumers to avoid potentially harmful foods and to ensure that retailers remove these products from store shelves.

On-Site Activities

On-site activities

  • At the same time that CFIA experts conduct the traceback and traceforward part of the investigation, CFIA inspectors at the facility go beyond their routine inspection schedule to:
    • observe processing or production practices;
    • review documented procedures;
    • observe/inspect equipment and conditions;
    • secure production and distribution records;
    • verify accuracy and completeness of information;
    • collect food samples and send for laboratory testing;
    • identify the possible root cause of the problem;
    • determine when the problem started and ended; or
    • identify corrective actions (if required) the company should take.
  • What inspectors observe, collect and document on-site is a critical piece of the food safety investigation.

Health Risk Assessment

  • If a potential health risk has been identified, a formal, written request for a health risk assessment (HRA) is submitted to Health Canada.
  • The purpose of an HRA is to determine what level of risk a specific food presents for the Canadian population.

Recall Process

  • A food recall is an action taken by a company to remove potentially unsafe food products or products from the market that do not comply with relevant laws. It is the responsibility of industry to remove the product from sale or distribution.
  • The CFIA's role is to inform the public, oversee implementation of the recall and verify that industry has removed recalled products from store shelves.
  • The CFIA oversees approximately 250 recall incidents a year.
  • Most recalls in Canada are voluntary; this means that the recalls are initiated and carried out by the responsible company, with oversight from the CFIA. If a company is unable or refuses to voluntarily recall a product, the Minister of Health has the power to order a mandatory recall for products that pose a health risk.

Decision Making

Decision Making

  • When a health risk has been established by Health Canada through an HRA, the CFIA determines the most appropriate risk management action, including whether or not to recall product.
  • When the CFIA determines a recall is necessary, it also decides what class to assign to the recall.
  • The decision to assign one of the following three classes of recall is based heavily on the level of risk established by Health Canada during the HRA:
    • Class I (high risk): There is a high risk that eating or drinking the food product will lead to serious health problems or death.
    • Class II (moderate risk): Eating or drinking the food 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.
    • Class III (low and no risk): Eating or drinking the food product will not likely result in any undesirable health effects. This category can include food products that pose no health and safety risk, but do not comply with relevant laws (e.g. a product has more than the allowed level of an additive or preservative).

Recall Implementation

Recall Implementation

  • When it is determined that a recall is necessary, the CFIA requests that the recalling firm initiate a voluntary recall.
  • The recalling firm is responsible for immediately contacting all of its accounts (e.g. distributors or retailers) that received recalled product.
  • The CFIA closely monitors the recalling firm's activities and provides guidance or assistance when needed.

Informing the Public

Informing the Public

  • Informing the public about high risk recalls is critical as consumers may have recalled product in their homes.
  • Depending on the level of risk (i.e. class of recall), the CFIA will issue an alert to notify the public through the media within 24 hours of making a recall decision.
  • The CFIA issues a public alert for Class I and some Class II recalls and sends an email to subscribers of the recall email service.
  • Information on all recalls is posted to the CFIA website. The CFIA also makes recall information available via Twitter, RSS feeds, widgets and a free downloadable mobile application for smartphone devices.
  • In some situations, the CFIA also provides media technical briefings.
  • Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA sometimes issues public alerts while investigations are ongoing. As the Agency identifies additional recalled products through the course of an investigation, it will issue additional public alerts in order keep consumers informed of potential risk.

Recall Verification Activities

Recall Verification Activities

  • If food has been recalled, it is the responsibility of industry to remove it from the marketplace immediately.
  • The CFIA conducts effectiveness checks to verify unsafe food has been removed from store shelves.
  • If the recall is determined to be ineffective, the CFIA will request the firm to redo the recall or will recommend that the Minister of Health issue a mandatory recall if required.
  • If a firm is unwilling to remove the product from sale and appropriately dispose of it, the CFIA may seize and detain the product.
  • The CFIA will also verify the company has handled the recalled product correctly. For example, if the recalling firm chooses to dispose of the recalled product in a landfill, CFIA experts may oversee the transportation of the product to ensure appropriate disposal.

Follow-Up

Follow Up

  • Once the recall is complete, and the recalled products have been removed from store shelves, the CFIA continues to work with the processor, manufacturer or importer to ensure that any problems that led to the recall are resolved.
  • During the food safety investigation, the CFIA may have requested the company to take corrective actions to prevent the problem from reoccurring and avoid subsequent recalls. This could include changes to a plant's sanitation program or operating procedures.
  • CFIA inspection staff will monitor the company to ensure any required corrective actions are implemented effectively. The CFIA may heighten oversight and sampling and testing for a defined period of time to ensure the problem does not reoccur.
  • The CFIA may review standards and policies as needed to determine whether revisions are necessary.
  • The Agency sometimes works with industry sectors or foreign countries to address trends that go beyond a particular company, sector or recall.
  • Sometimes CFIA inspection activities can detect a food safety concern in a facility, but a recall is not initiated since no contaminated product reached store shelves. In cases such as these, follow-up activities are still required at the facility to ensure the problem does not reoccur and create a health risk to the public.
Consumer complaint

The CFIA will launch a food safety investigation when the Agency receives a consumer complaint regarding the safety, labelling or quality of a food product.

Complaints are received directly from consumers or can be referred to the Agency by federal or provincial government departments. Sometimes the Agency will become aware of a consumer concern through the media, as sometimes it is to the media that a consumer will first turn.

Consumers play an important role in the food safety system by reporting food safety concerns to the CFIA. The Agency receives approximately 2,000 reports a year from consumers concerning food safety issues.

Food safety concerns can be reported by emailing the CFIA or calling a local CFIA office. All contact information can be found in the Contact Us section of the Agency's website.

Food Safety Investigation

  • Food safety investigations are complex and involve several essential steps to determine if a food recall is required and what products to recall.
  • When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA acts as quickly as possible to collect information and make decisions.
  • Investigations are carried out by a variety of experts at the CFIA, including inspection staff.

Objectives

Objectives

  • To determine if there is a health risk
  • To identify which foods could be contaminated and with what
  • To determine how far in the food distribution system a potentially harmful product has been distributed (i.e. manufacturer/importer, distributor, retail or consumer level)
  • To determine if a recall and/or other action (e.g. detention of product or suspension of operating licence) is needed to protect consumers
  • To identify the root cause of the problem, if possible

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

  • When a consumer complaint is received, the consumer often still has the product in his or her possession. The CFIA will examine and possibly test the food product. Usually, the Agency will begin tracing it back through the distribution chain, beginning with where the consumer purchased it.
  • By tracing the food product back to its production or processing facility or to an importer, CFIA experts can try to pinpoint where the problem occurred.
  • In order to determine what specific food products to recall, the CFIA must trace food products forward from where the suspected problem occurred. For example, if it is suspected that the problem occurred at a production or processing facility, the CFIA will trace forward to determine where that facility distributed its product.
  • CFIA experts must obtain, sort and analyze a great deal of distribution information such as where in Canada the food was sold and in what stores. Food products may be sold to other companies that repackage them or use them as an ingredient in other products, making the traceforward work even more complex.
  • CFIA experts work with industry to accurately identify recalled products by brand name, code, UPC, label, package, expiry/best before date and/or date of purchase. This detailed information is vital to warn consumers to avoid potentially harmful foods and to ensure that retailers remove these products from store shelves.

On-Site Activities

On-site activities

  • Once potentially harmful food is traced back to a production or processing facility or to an importer, CFIA inspectors immediately conduct an on-site visit and may:
    • observe processing or production practices;
    • review documented procedures;
    • observe/inspect equipment and conditions;
    • secure production and distribution records;
    • verify accuracy and completeness of information;
    • collect food samples and send for laboratory testing;
    • identify the possible root cause of the problem;
    • determine when the problem started and ended; or
    • identify corrective actions (if required) the company should take.
  • What inspectors observe, collect and document on-site is a critical piece of the food safety investigation.

Health Risk Assessment

  • If a potential health risk has been identified, a formal, written request for a health risk assessment (HRA) is submitted to Health Canada.
  • The purpose of an HRA is to determine what level of risk a specific food presents for the Canadian population.

Recall Process

  • A food recall is an action taken by a company to remove potentially unsafe food products or products from the market that do not comply with relevant laws. It is the responsibility of industry to remove the product from sale or distribution.
  • The CFIA's role is to inform the public, oversee implementation of the recall and verify that industry has removed recalled products from store shelves.
  • The CFIA oversees approximately 250 recall incidents a year.
  • Most recalls in Canada are voluntary; this means that the recalls are initiated and carried out by the responsible company, with oversight from the CFIA. If a company is unable or refuses to voluntarily recall a product, the Minister of Health has the power to order a mandatory recall for products that pose a health risk.

Decision Making

Decision Making

  • When a health risk has been established by Health Canada through an HRA, the CFIA determines the most appropriate risk management action, including whether or not to recall product.
  • When the CFIA determines a recall is necessary, it also decides what class to assign to the recall.
  • The decision to assign one of the following three classes of recall is based heavily on the level of risk established by Health Canada during the HRA:
    • Class I (high risk): There is a high risk that eating or drinking the food product will lead to serious health problems or death.
    • Class II (moderate risk): Eating or drinking the food 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.
    • Class III (low and no risk): Eating or drinking the food product will not likely result in any undesirable health effects. This category can include food products that pose no health and safety risk, but do not comply with relevant laws (e.g. a product has more than the allowed level of an additive or preservative).

Recall Implementation

Recall Implementation

  • When it is determined that a recall is necessary, the CFIA requests that the recalling firm initiate a voluntary recall.
  • The recalling firm is responsible for immediately contacting all of its accounts (e.g. distributors or retailers) that received recalled product.
  • The CFIA closely monitors the recalling firm's activities and provides guidance or assistance when needed.

Informing the Public

Informing the Public

  • Informing the public about high risk recalls is critical as consumers may have recalled product in their homes.
  • Depending on the level of risk (i.e. class of recall), the CFIA will issue an alert to notify the public through the media within 24 hours of making a recall decision.
  • The CFIA issues a public alert for Class I and some Class II recalls and sends an email to subscribers of the recall email service.
  • Information on all recalls is posted to the CFIA website. The CFIA also makes recall information available via Twitter, RSS feeds, widgets and a free downloadable mobile application for smartphone devices.
  • In some situations, the CFIA also provides media technical briefings.
  • Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA sometimes issues public alerts while investigations are ongoing. As the Agency identifies additional recalled products through the course of an investigation, it will issue additional public alerts in order keep consumers informed of potential risk.

Recall Verification Activities

Recall Verification Activities

  • If food has been recalled, it is the responsibility of industry to remove it from the marketplace immediately.
  • The CFIA conducts effectiveness checks to verify unsafe food has been removed from store shelves.
  • If the recall is determined to be ineffective, the CFIA will request the firm to redo the recall or will recommend that the Minister of Health issue a mandatory recall if required.
  • If a firm is unwilling to remove the product from sale and appropriately dispose of it, the CFIA may seize and detain the product.
  • The CFIA will also verify the company has handled the recalled product correctly. For example, if the recalling firm chooses to dispose of the recalled product in a landfill, CFIA experts may oversee the transportation of the product to ensure appropriate disposal.

Follow-Up

Follow Up

  • Once the recall is complete, and the recalled products have been removed from store shelves, the CFIA continues to work with the processor, manufacturer or importer to ensure that any problems that led to the recall are resolved.
  • During the food safety investigation, the CFIA may have requested the company to take corrective actions to prevent the problem from reoccurring and avoid subsequent recalls. This could include changes to a plant's sanitation program or operating procedures.
  • CFIA inspection staff will monitor the company to ensure any required corrective actions are implemented effectively. The CFIA may heighten oversight and sampling and testing for a defined period of time to ensure the problem does not reoccur.
  • The CFIA may review standards and policies as needed to determine whether revisions are necessary.
  • The Agency sometimes works with industry sectors or foreign countries to address trends that go beyond a particular company, sector or recall.
Company-initiated recall

The CFIA will launch a food safety investigation when a company informs the Agency that it is undertaking a self-initiated recall.

In most cases, the CFIA will support the company's decision to recall and will trigger a food safety investigation to help the company conduct a timely, accurate and thorough recall.

Food Safety Investigation

  • Food safety investigations are complex and involve several essential steps to determine if a food recall is required and what products to recall. When a company initiates a recall, the CFIA's food safety investigation focuses on properly identifying what food products to recall.
  • The CFIA acts as quickly as possible to help the company sort through product and distribution information and make decisions about what to recall.
  • Investigations are carried out by a variety of experts at the CFIA, including inspection staff.

Objectives

Objectives

  • To determine if there is a health risk and if the company's recall reflects the applicable level of risk
  • To identify which foods could be contaminated and with what
  • To determine how far in the food distribution system a potentially harmful product has been distributed (i.e. manufacturer/importer, distributor, retail or consumer level)
  • To determine what specific food products to recall and what other action (e.g. detention of product or suspension of operating licence) is needed to protect consumers
  • To identify the root cause of the problem, if possible

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

  • When a company initiates its own recall, traceback activities are less complex.
  • CFIA experts work closely with the company to trace the food product back through the production process to try to pinpoint where the problem occurred.
  • In order to help a company determine what specific food products to recall, the CFIA must trace food products forward from where the suspected problem occurred. For example, if it is suspected that the problem occurred on a particular production line, the CFIA will trace the products from that production line forward to determine where they were distributed.
  • CFIA experts must obtain, sort and analyze a great deal of distribution information such as where in Canada the food was sold and in what stores. Food products may be sold to other companies that repackage them or use them as an ingredient in other products, making the traceforward work even more complex.
  • CFIA experts work with industry to accurately identify recalled products by brand name, code, UPC, label, package, expiry/best before date and/or date of purchase. This detailed information is vital to warn consumers to avoid potentially harmful foods and to ensure that retailers remove these products from store shelves.

On-Site Activities

On-site activities

  • If a company approaches the CFIA with the intent to recall food products and CFIA experts believe there could be a health risk to the public, the Agency will send CFIA inspectors immediately to conduct an on-site visit who may:
    • observe processing or production practices;
    • review documented procedures;
    • observe/inspect equipment and conditions;
    • secure production and distribution records;
    • verify accuracy and completeness of information;
    • collect food samples and send for laboratory testing;
    • identify the possible root cause of the problem;
    • determine when the problem started and ended; or
    • identify corrective actions (if required) the company should take.
  • What inspectors observe, collect and document on-site is a critical piece of the food safety investigation.

Health Risk Assessment

  • If a potential health risk has been identified, a formal, written request for a health risk assessment (HRA) is submitted to Health Canada.
  • The purpose of an HRA is to determine what level of risk a specific food presents for the Canadian population.
  • If a company is initiating a recall and informing the public, an HRA is not normally required as the company is already initiating the removal of the health risk from the marketplace.
  • However, if CFIA experts assess the situation and determine that the company is not recalling all the right products or is not willing to inform consumers adequately about the health risks associated with its product, the CFIA will request an HRA from Health Canada.

Recall Process

  • A food recall is an action taken by a company to remove potentially unsafe food products or products from the market that do not comply with relevant laws. Whether the recall is initiated by the company or by the CFIA, it is the responsibility of industry to remove the product from sale or distribution.
  • The CFIA's role is to inform the public, oversee implementation of the recall and verify that industry has removed recalled products from store shelves.
  • The CFIA oversees approximately 250 recall incidents a year.

Decision Making

Decision Making

  • In the case of most company-initiated recalls, the CFIA will support a company's decision to recall product.
  • However, occasionally the CFIA and a company disagree about the level of risk associated with the products and the CFIA requests that an HRA be completed. In these instances, a CFIA expert will determine what class to assign to the recall on the basis of the level of risk established by Health Canada.
  • There are three classes of recall:
    • Class I (high risk): There is a high risk that eating or drinking the food product will lead to serious health problems or death.
    • Class II (moderate risk): Eating or drinking the food 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.
    • Class III (low and no risk): Eating or drinking the food product will not likely result in any undesirable health effects. This category can include food products that pose no health and safety risk, but do not comply with relevant laws (e.g. a product has more than the allowed level of an additive or preservative).

Recall Implementation

Recall Implementation

  • The recalling firm is responsible for immediately contacting all of its accounts (e.g. distributors or retailers) that received recalled product.
  • The CFIA closely monitors the recalling firm's activities and provides guidance or assistance when needed.

Informing the Public

Informing the Public

  • Informing the public about high risk recalls is critical as consumers may have recalled product in their homes.
  • Depending on the level of risk (i.e. class of recall), the CFIA will issue an alert to notify the public through the media within 24 hours of making a recall decision.
  • The CFIA issues a public alert for Class I and some Class II recalls and sends an email to subscribers of the recall email service.
  • Information on all recalls is posted to the CFIA website. The CFIA also makes recall information available via Twitter, RSS feeds, widgets and a free downloadable mobile application for smartphone devices.
  • In some situations, the CFIA also provides media technical briefings.
  • Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA sometimes issues public alerts while investigations are ongoing. As the Agency identifies additional recalled products through the course of an investigation, it will issue additional public alerts in order keep consumers informed of potential risk.

Recall Verification Activities

Recall Verification Activities

  • If food has been recalled, it is the responsibility of industry to remove it from the marketplace immediately.
  • The CFIA conducts effectiveness checks to verify unsafe food has been removed from store shelves.
  • If the recall is determined to be ineffective, the CFIA will request the firm to redo the recall or will recommend that the Minister of Health issue a mandatory recall if required.
  • The CFIA will also verify the company has handled the recalled product correctly. For example, if the recalling firm chooses to dispose of the recalled product in a landfill, CFIA experts may oversee the transportation of the product to ensure appropriate disposal.

Follow-Up

Follow Up

  • Once the recall is complete, and the recalled products have been removed from store shelves, the CFIA continues to work with the processor, manufacturer or importer to ensure that any problems that led to the recall are resolved.
  • During the food safety investigation, the CFIA may have requested the company to take corrective actions to prevent the problem from reoccurring and avoid subsequent recalls. This could include changes to a plant's sanitation program or operating procedures.
  • CFIA inspection staff will monitor the company to ensure any required corrective actions are implemented effectively. The CFIA may heighten oversight and sampling and testing for a defined period of time to ensure the problem does not reoccur.
  • The CFIA may review standards and policies as needed to determine whether revisions are necessary.
  • The Agency sometimes works with industry sectors or foreign countries to address trends that go beyond a particular company, sector or recall.
Recall in other country

The CFIA will launch a food safety investigation when another country recalls a food product that has been imported into Canada.

The Agency's Office of Food Safety and Recall is the primary contact for international food emergency offices and foreign manufacturers.

Food Safety Investigation

  • When another country recalls a food product, there are several essential steps in a food safety investigation that must be taken to determine if the recalled product is in Canada and if it poses a health risk to Canadians.
  • When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA acts as quickly as possible to collect information and make decisions.
  • Investigations are carried out by a variety of experts at the CFIA, including inspection staff.

Objectives

Objectives

  • To determine if there is a health risk to Canadians
  • To identify which foods could be contaminated and with what
  • To determine how far in the food distribution system a potentially harmful product has been distributed (i.e. importer, distributor, retail or consumer level)
  • To determine if a recall and/or other action (e.g. a border lookout or detention of product) is needed to protect consumers

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

Traceback/Traceforward Activities

  • When there is a recall in another country, there is no requirement for traceback activities within Canada as it is predetermined that the product is imported and not manufactured in Canada.
  • To determine what specific food products to recall in Canada, the CFIA must trace food products forward from the foreign manufacturer. First, CFIA experts need to identify all Canadian importers that brought in the recalled product.
  • CFIA experts must work with the Canadian importers to obtain, sort and analyze a great deal of distribution information such as where in Canada the food was sold and in what stores. Food products may be sold to other companies that repackage them or use them as an ingredient in other products, making the traceforward work even more complex.
  • CFIA experts work with industry to accurately identify recalled products by brand name, code, UPC, label, package, expiry/best before date and/or date of purchase. This detailed information is vital to warn consumers to avoid potentially harmful foods and to ensure that retailers remove these products from store shelves.

On-Site Activities

On-site activities

  • When a recall in another country triggers a food safety investigation, on-site activities are limited since the root cause for the recall occurred outside a Canadian facility. However, once food is traced forward to a Canadian importer, CFIA inspectors will often conduct an on-site visit to the importer to:
    • secure production and distribution records;
    • verify accuracy and completeness of information; or
    • collect food samples and send for laboratory testing (if determined to be necessary).

Health Risk Assessment

  • If a potential health risk has been identified, a formal, written request for a health risk assessment (HRA) is submitted to Health Canada.
  • The purpose of an HRA is to determine what level of risk a specific food presents for the Canadian population.
  • If another country initiates a recall of a product that is also for sale in Canada, the CFIA will not typically request an HRA as it will support the decision by the foreign government or manufacturer that a health risk exists.
  • However, in unique circumstances, e.g. a foreign manufacturer recalls a product but is not willing to go public, the CFIA will request Health Canada conduct an HRA.

Recall Process

  • A food recall is an action taken by a company to remove potentially unsafe food products or products from the market that do not comply with relevant laws. It is the responsibility of industry to remove the product from sale or distribution.
  • The CFIA's role is to inform the public, oversee implementation of the recall and verify that industry has removed recalled products from store shelves.
  • The CFIA oversees approximately 250 recall incidents a year.

Decision Making

Decision Making

  • If another country initiates a recall of a product that is also for sale in Canada, the CFIA will typically support the decision by initiating a recall in Canada. The CFIA will assign a class to the recall in line with the health risk identified by the foreign government.
  • Occasionally, the CFIA will request Health Canada to conduct a health risk assessment. A CFIA expert will determine what class to assign to the recall on the basis of the level of risk established by Health Canada.
  • There are three classes of recall:
    • Class I (high risk): There is a high risk that eating or drinking the food product will lead to serious health problems or death.
    • Class II (moderate risk): Eating or drinking the food 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.
    • Class III (low and no risk): Eating or drinking the food product will not likely result in any undesirable health effects. This category can include food products that pose no health and safety risk, but do not comply with relevant laws (e.g. a product has more than the allowed level of an additive or preservative).

Recall Implementation

Recall Implementation

  • When it is determined that a recall is necessary, the CFIA requests that the importer initiate a voluntary recall.
  • The Canadian importer is responsible for immediately contacting all of its accounts (e.g. distributors or retailers) to which it shipped recalled product.
  • The CFIA closely monitors the importer's activities and provides guidance or assistance when needed.

Informing the Public

Informing the Public

  • If a foreign manufacturer publicly recalls a product that is sold in Canada, the CFIA may immediately issue a consumer advisory while it initiates the food safety investigation to identify the Canadian importers.
  • Once the Agency has gathered all the necessary information and made a recall decision, it will issue a recall alert to notify the public through the media within 24 hours. The CFIA issues a public alert for Class I and some Class II recalls and sends an email to subscribers of the recall email service.
  • Informing the public about high risk recalls is critical as consumers may have recalled product in their homes.
  • Information on all recalls is posted to the CFIA website. The CFIA also makes recall information available via Twitter, RSS feeds, widgets and a free downloadable mobile application for smartphone devices.
  • In some situations, the CFIA also provides media technical briefings.
  • Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA sometimes issues public alerts while investigations, both in Canada and abroad, are ongoing. As additional recalled products are identified through the course of an investigation, the CFIA will issue additional public alerts in order keep consumers informed of potential risk.

Recall Verification Activities

Recall Verification Activities

  • If food has been recalled, it is the responsibility of industry to remove it from the marketplace immediately.
  • The CFIA conducts effectiveness checks to verify unsafe food has been removed from store shelves.
  • If the recall is determined to be ineffective, the CFIA will request the firm to redo the recall or will recommend that the Minister of Health issue a mandatory recall if required.
  • If a firm is unwilling to remove the product from sale and appropriately dispose of it, the CFIA may seize and detain the product.
  • The CFIA will also verify the company has handled the recalled product correctly. For example, if the recalling firm chooses to dispose of the recalled product in a landfill, CFIA experts may oversee the transportation of the product to ensure appropriate disposal.

Follow-Up

Follow Up

  • Once the recall is complete, and the recalled products have been removed from store shelves, the CFIA continues to work with the importer to ensure that it continues to import safe food products from reliable foreign manufacturers.
  • The CFIA may heighten oversight and sampling and testing of imported products for a defined period of time to ensure the problem does not reoccur.
  • The CFIA may review standards and policies as needed to determine whether revisions are necessary.
  • The Agency sometimes works with industry sectors or foreign countries to address trends that go beyond a particular company, sector or recall.
Other Triggers

On average, the CFIA conducts 3,000 food safety investigations each year (less than 10 per cent result in a recall incident). The majority of these investigations are initiated as a result of familiar or expected triggers. However, some are the result of infrequent or new triggers to which the CFIA must respond.

Other triggers can include information from law enforcement about potential food tampering, industry complaints, information from consumer associations, or even posts on social media sites such as Twitter.

As for all other triggers, the CFIA will begin a food safety investigation to determine if there is a potentially unsafe food product or product on the market that does not comply with relevant laws.