Beef Processing and Inspection

View our detailed explanation of Beef Processing & Inspection:

Overview

In Canada, beef sold across provinces or exported must be produced in a federally registered plant inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Types of plants include slaughter and processing.

Each plant is responsible for producing safe, properly labelled beef that complies with relevant laws. They must also minimize food safety risks by:

  • establishing and maintaining a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)Footnote 1 system and records,
  • providing written records to CFIA inspectors upon request ,
  • developing and implementing corrective action plans as requested by the CFIA,
  • reporting any food safety issues to the CFIA, and
  • correcting any problems in a timely manner.

The role of the CFIA is to enforce federal laws under its mandate and verify that beef plants develop and effectively implement controls to minimize potential risks. CFIA inspectors and veterinarians work together to assess industry compliance by overseeing activities related to:

  • facilities, personnel and processes,
  • animal health and welfare,
  • slaughter processes,
  • raw beef processing,
  • ready-to-eat beef processing,
  • sampling and testing.

In addition to direct observation of plant activities, CFIA inspectors review written procedures and plant documentation, such as:

  • HACCPFootnote 2 plans and records,
  • sampling data and test results,
  • sanitation records,
  • employee hygiene,
  • cooking temperatures,
  • export certificates.

Contamination can occur at any point in the production process. Because contamination is not always visible to the naked eye, the CFIA also collects its own samples, which are sent for testing to CFIA and other off-site laboratories. This is over and above any sampling and testing conducted by a plant and is done to verify the effectiveness of a plant's controls. The CFIA conducts both random and directed sampling and testing:

  • random sampling and testing is conducted to identify trends and gather information on the occurrence and levels of contaminants in food and on equipment, and
  • directed sampling and testing is conducted to investigate suspected problems.

When CFIA inspectors observe an issue or non-compliance, they quickly inform the plant and a Corrective Action RequestFootnote 3 is given. When food safety may be at risk, the CFIA requires the plant to take appropriate action in a specified time frame. In addition, inspectors may hold certain products and/or seize and detain non-compliant product. For issues that don't pose food safety risks, plants are usually given more time to fix them.

The CFIA also has several enforcement options which can be used if a plant is not complying with relevant laws and/or has not made corrections effectively and/or by a specific deadline. These options include:

  • suspending the plant's operating licence,
  • issuing Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) in some cases,
  • seizing and detaining non-compliant product, and
  • recommending prosecution.

If a food product needs to be recalled because it poses a health risk, the plant is responsible for removing it from the marketplace. The CFIA verifies that the recalled products have been removed from store shelves.

The Inspection Process

1. Facilities, Personnel and Processes

Hazards

Various hazards may be identified in a plant's environment and operational practices, such as:

  • outside sources of contamination (excessive dust, pests, etc.),
  • airborne contamination (poor ventilation, condensation, etc.),
  • contamination from poor personal hygiene and manufacturing practices (inadequately trained personnel, poor sanitation practices, etc.),
  • inadequate temperature controls during manufacturing, transportation and/or storage of food products,
  • contaminated incoming products (ingredients, supplies, etc.), and
  • presence of physical hazards (metal, plastic, etc.).

Industry Responsibilities

Each plant is responsible for managing hazards in the work environment and in its operational practices through a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system.Footnote 4 Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • developing, implementing and maintaining a HACCP PlanFootnote 2 and records to identify and control food safety hazards within a plant,
  • developing, implementing and maintaining prerequisite programs to assist in controlling the likelihood of introducing food safety hazards to the product through the work environment and operational practices. Prerequisite programs include:
    • premises (outside property, building, etc.),
    • transportation and storage (purchasing, receiving, shipping, etc.),
    • equipment (design, maintenance, etc.),
    • personnel (good manufacturing practices, good personal hygiene, etc.),
    • sanitation and pest control,
    • recall program,
    • operational (allergens, food additives, etc.), and
  • maintaining procedures for and records of monitoring activities and steps taken when an issue is identified.

CFIA Inspection

CFIA inspectors assess the effectiveness of a plant's HACCP systemFootnote 4. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • reviewing and assessing a plant's prerequisite programs and HACCP planFootnote 2 when they first open to determine whether the plant's HACCP system is complete and implemented effectively as described,
  • reviewing plant records and observing effective implementation of prerequisite programs and HACCP plan to reassess that food safety hazards remain under control, and
  • interviewing and observing plant personnel and processes.

Compliance and Enforcement

The CFIA can use a number of compliance and enforcement options if a plant is not complying with relevant laws or has not made corrections effectively or by a specific deadline. These include:

  • holding certain products,
  • seizing and detaining non-compliant products,
  • requiring the plant to correct issues or non-compliances in a specific time frame,
  • issuing a Corrective Action RequestFootnote 3 to the plant,
  • launching a food safety investigation to assess where a problem may have originated,
  • suspending the plant's operating licence, and/or
  • recommending prosecution.

2. Animal Health and Welfare

Regulatory Requirements

Federal regulations outline requirements for:

  • animal health – animals must be healthy and free from disease before slaughter,
  • animal welfare – animals must be handled humanely before and at slaughter, and
  • traceability – animals must be properly identified to be able to follow them from one point in the supply chain to another, which is important during an investigation.

Industry Responsibilities

Producers, transporters and beef plants are responsible for complying with animal health, welfare and certain traceability regulations. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • ensuring the humane treatment of animals during transportation, herding and stunning,
  • identifying and separating apart any animals not fit for slaughter, including injured or diseased animals, and
  • ensuring animals are properly identified for traceability purposes.

CFIA Inspection

CFIA inspectors and veterinarians work together to verify plant compliance with animal health, welfare and traceability regulations. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • observing the animals' conduct and behaviour for any signs of disease,
  • verifying animal identification records and tags, and
  • overseeing humane treatment of animals during herding and slaughter.

Compliance and Enforcement

The CFIA can use a number of compliance and enforcement options if a plant is not complying with animal health, welfare and traceability rules or has not made corrections effectively or by a specific deadline. These include:

  • identifying and removing any animal not deemed acceptable for slaughter,
  • requiring the plant to correct issues in a specified time frame,
  • issuing a Corrective Action RequestFootnote 3 to the plant,
  • suspending the plant's operating licence,
  • issuing Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs), and
  • recommending prosecution.

3. Slaughter Process

Hazards

Beef can become contaminated during the slaughter process. Some of the hazards include:

  • bacterial contamination of the carcass during removal of hide and digestive tract,
  • bacterial cross-contamination during splitting of the carcass,
  • bacterial growth during chilling/aging of carcasses, and
  • specific animal tissues at risk for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) (spinal cord, brain, etc.).

Industry Responsibilities

Each plant is responsible for managing hazards that may occur during slaughter. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • ensuring only clean animals are received at the slaughterhouse,
  • decontaminating carcasses with hot water and/or approved antimicrobial products,
  • removing any visible feces from carcasses,
  • continuously sanitizing equipment (knives, saws, hooks, etc.) during production,
  • implementing proper chilling procedures and maintaining proper temperatures for aging of carcasses,
  • maintaining records for potential recall and traceability purposes,
  • removing and managing specific animal tissues at risk for BSE, and
  • sampling and testing carcasses.

CFIA Inspection

CFIA inspectors verify the effectiveness of plant controls during the slaughter process. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • inspecting or overseeing the inspection of carcasses and their parts,
  • ensuring that suspect carcasses are properly set aside for veterinarian examination,
  • observing the removal and handling of specific animal tissues at risk for BSE,
  • interviewing and observing plant personnel and processes,
  • sampling and testing carcasses to verify that plant controls are working,
  • reviewing plant test results as well as corrective measures taken when positive results are identified, and
  • reviewing plant records, such as:
    • HACCPFootnote 2 plans and records,
    • monitoring records,
    • procedures for and records of steps taken when an issue is identified,
    • chilling procedures,
    • test results and any measures taken when positive results are identified.

Compliance and Enforcement

The CFIA can use a number of compliance and enforcement options if a plant is not complying with relevant laws or has not made corrections effectively or by a specific deadline. These include:

  • directing the plant to trim or condemn parts of any carcass deemed not acceptable,
  • holding certain products,
  • seizing and detaining non-compliant products,
  • requiring the plant to correct issues or non-compliances in a specific time frame,
  • issuing a Corrective Action RequestFootnote 3 to the plant,
  • launching a food safety investigation to assess where a problem may have originated,
  • monitoring the effectiveness of a recall,
  • suspending the plant's operating licence, and
  • recommending prosecution.

4. Raw Beef Processing

Hazards

Beef can become contaminated during the processing stage, which includes de-boning, cutting of primal cuts such as steaks and roasts, and processing of trim and ground beef. Some of the hazards include:

  • bacterial contamination of raw beef from the slaughter stage,
  • bacterial growth during processing and cooling of beef products, and
  • bacterial growth during storage or transportation of finished product.

Industry Responsibilities

Each plant is responsible for managing hazards that may occur during the processing of raw beef. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • maintaining temperature of processing room to prevent bacterial growth,
  • sampling and testing beef products, including trim and ground beef,
  • implementing a detailed sanitation program, including employee/product traffic controls, employee hygiene and good manufacturing practices, and sanitizing processes,
  • conducting internal food safety verifications,
  • maintaining records for potential recall and traceability purposes, and
  • managing contamination risks during storage and transportation of packaged products, including temperature controls.

CFIA Inspection

CFIA inspectors are present during the processing of raw beef to verify the effectiveness of plant controls. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • interviewing and observing plant personnel and processes,
  • sampling and testing products and food contact surfaces,
  • observing plant personnel sampling of product and food contact surfaces,
  • reviewing plant test results as well as corrective measures taken when positive results are identified, and
  • reviewing plant records, such as:
    • HACCPFootnote 2 plans and records,
    • sanitation procedures,
    • monitoring records,
    • procedures for and records of steps taken when an issue is identified,
    • cooling procedures and temperatures,
    • test results and any measures taken when positive results are identified,
    • rendering, cooking and disposal procedures.

Compliance and Enforcement

The CFIA can use a number of compliance and enforcement options if a plant is not complying with relevant laws or has not made corrections effectively or by a specific deadline. These include:

  • holding certain products,
  • seizing and detaining non-compliant product,
  • requiring the plant to correct issues or non-compliances in a specific time frame,
  • issuing a Corrective Action RequestFootnote 3 to the plant,
  • launching a food safety investigation to assess where a problem may have originated,
  • monitoring the effectiveness of a recall,
  • suspending the plant's operating licence, and
  • recommending prosecution.

5. Ready-to-Eat Beef Processing

Hazards

Food can become contaminated during the processing of ready-to-eat products. Some of the hazards may include:

  • cross-contamination on processing equipment/food contact surfaces, and
  • Listeria monocytogenes growth during processing, including improper cooking, chilling, slicing and packaging.

Industry Responsibilities

Each plant is responsible for implementing controls to manage hazards posed by processing ready-to-eat products. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • implementing a detailed sanitation program, including employee/product traffic controls, employee hygiene and good manufacturing practices, and sanitizing processes,
  • implementing procedures to effectively eliminate bacteria during processing (cooking, drying or canning),
  • implementing procedures to effectively eliminate unsafe bacterial growth after the ready-to-eat beef products are packaged (antimicrobial agents, high-pressure pasteurization, etc.),
  • sampling and testing ready-to-eat beef products and food contact surfaces for Listeria,
  • conducting internal food safety verifications,
  • maintaining records for potential recall and traceability purposes, and
  • managing contamination risks during storage and transportation of packaged products, including temperature controls.

CFIA Inspection

CFIA inspectors verify the effectiveness of plant controls during the processing, storage and transportation of ready-to-eat products. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • interviewing and observing plant personnel and processes,
  • sampling and testing products and food contact surfaces,
  • observing plant personnel sampling of product and food contact surfaces,
  • reviewing plant test results as well as corrective measures taken when positive results are identified, and
  • reviewing plant records, such as:
    • HACCPFootnote 2 plans and records
    • sanitation procedures,
    • monitoring records,
    • procedures for and records of steps taken when an issue is identified,
    • cooling and cooking procedures and temperatures,
    • test results and any measures taken when positive results are identified.

Compliance and Enforcement

The CFIA can use a number of compliance and enforcement options if a plant is not complying with relevant laws or has not made corrections effectively or by a specific deadline. These include:

  • holding certain products,
  • seizing and detaining non-compliant product,
  • requiring the plant to correct issues or non-compliances in a specific time frame,
  • issuing a Corrective Action RequestFootnote 3 to the plant,
  • launching a food safety investigation to assess where a problem may have originated,
  • monitoring the effectiveness of a recall,
  • suspending the plant's operating licence, and
  • recommending prosecution.

6. Sampling and Testing

Hazards

Sampling and testing is used by industry and the CFIA as a method to verify that plant controls are working. Some of the hazards that testing can help identify include:

  • bacterial contamination of products and food contact surfaces, such as:
    • E. coli O157:H7 on carcasses, beef trim and other raw beef material used to produce ground beef,
    • Listeria monocytogenes on food contact surfaces or in ready-to-eat products.
  • chemical hazards, such as:
    • agricultural and environmental contaminants,
    • veterinary drugs.

Industry Responsibilities

Each plant is responsible for implementing controls to manage the risks posed by bacterial and chemical hazards. Sampling and testing is an effective way to verify the effectiveness of those controls. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • sampling and testing beef carcasses, beef trim and other raw beef material used to produce ground beef, to ensure the presence of E. coli O157:H7 is controlled (mandatory in beef slaughterhouses and beef processing plants),
  • sampling and testing ready-to-eat products and food contact surfaces to verify the absence of Listeria monocytogenes (mandatory in plants producing ready-to-eat beef products),
  • reporting all positive results and corrective actions to the CFIA,
  • removing carcasses positive for E. coli O157:H7 from the production line,
  • redirecting raw meat positive for E. coli O157:H7 to rendering, cooking or disposal,
  • tracking test results for possible trends and indication of a potential problem, and
  • adjusting control measures throughout all stages of production when the number of positive E. coli O157:H7 results is higher than usual/expected.

CFIA Inspection

CFIA inspectors verify the effectiveness of plant controls through sampling and testing. Some of the ways they do this are by:

  • sampling and testing beef trim and other raw beef material used to produce ground beef,
  • sampling and testing finished product before packaging,
  • sampling and testing food contact surfaces,
  • reviewing plant test results as well as corrective measures taken when positive results are identified,
  • verifying the plant evaluates controls and procedures and takes corrective action as necessary when there is a higher-than-expected number of positive tests, and
  • randomly sampling and testing for monitoring purposes (veterinary drugs, environmental contaminants, etc.).

Compliance and Enforcement

The CFIA can use a number of compliance and enforcement options if a plant is not complying with relevant laws or has not made corrections effectively or by a specific deadline. These include:

  • holding certain product,
  • seizing and detaining non-compliant product,
  • requiring the plant to correct issues or non-compliances in a specific time frame,
  • issuing a Corrective Action RequestFootnote 3 to the plant,
  • launching a food safety investigation to assess where a problem may have originated,
  • monitoring the effectiveness of a recall,
  • suspending the plant's operating licence, and
  • recommending prosecution.

Beef Processing and Inspection: Risk-based Strategy

The Canadian food supply is one of the safest in the world. However, because it is impossible to inspect every single food item that enters the marketplace, the CFIA focuses its inspection activities in areas where risks are highest.

The CFIA determines areas of highest risk based on a number of factors.

Description: Beef Processing and Inspection: Risk-based Strategy

A large green arrow with the word risk written on its tail is pointing to a series of blue, red and yellowish-gold rectangles. The arrow first points to a blue rectangle, representing industry control, layered with a red rectangle representing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Both rectangles have visible holes in them through which smaller versions of the green risk arrow flow through. In the first set of blue and red rectangles, six green risk arrows can be seen flowing through, leading to the second set of blue and red rectangles. In the second set, you see five green risk arrows flowing through leading to the next set of rectangles. In the third set of blue and red rectangles, you see four green risk arrows flowing through, leading to the fourth set of rectangles. In the fourth set of rectangles, only three green risk arrows seem to flow through. In the fifth and final set of blue and red rectangles only two green risk arrows flow through. This leads to a final rectangle of the series which is a yellowish-gold colour with the word consumer on it. Out of this final rectangle, four very small green risk arrows flow through.

The CFIA determines areas of highest risk based on a number of factors, including:

  • scientific analysis of potential hazards that can occur at particular points in production,
  • previously identified risks associated with specific products,
  • a company's compliance history,
  • random sampling and testing that identifies levels of bacterial or chemical hazards in specific products.

In addition to industry controls, CFIA oversight helps to manage potential risks. Consumers also play an important role in protecting themselves and their families by signing up on the CFIA website to receive food recall and allergy alert emails. Consumers should also follow safe food handling practices at home, including proper cooking, cleaning, chilling and separating practices.

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