Food Investigation Response Manual
11.0 Tampering

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Over the years, there have been sporadic incidents of tampering, tampering threats, and deliberate contamination of food products regulated under legislation administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). For the purposes of this document, the term "tampering incident" will be used to represent tampering, threats of tampering and deliberate contamination (sabotage) of food products.

11.1 Background

Tampering is defined as deliberate or intentional altering of a product, its container or label with the intent to harm.

Although tampering is often random and violent in nature, it can occur for other reasons:

  • Extortion;
  • For the personal gain of the perpetrators;
  • Promotion of political objectives;
  • By obtaining free publicity; or
  • Revenge, by causing financial damage to a recalling firm through lost sales.

Product tampering may be prosecuted as an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. The Code does not contain specific provisions that relate directly to product tampering, although sections such as public mischief, uttering threats, extortion, etc. , may apply.

Several instances of product tampering and threats in Canada, in recent years have occurred, which resulted in extensive investigations, product recalls, and public advisories in some cases.

The following questions may be useful in deciding whether an issue should be treated as a tampering incident.

  1. Is there visible evidence that the integrity of the package has been compromised? (i.e. tears, perforations, loss of vacuum, open or broken seal)
  2. Does the food appear to have been altered or replaced?
  3. Was harmful foreign matter found in the package or product?
  4. Does the orientation of the foreign material in the package indicate whether the foreign material was introduced deliberately or accidentally?
  5. Could the foreign material (type, dimensions, condition) make it through the manufacturing process intact?
  6. Does the foreign material seem consistent with the product/manufacturing process?
  7. Have other similar complaints been received by the importer, retailer or manufacturer?
  8. Has anyone indicated that the food has been tampered with or threatened to tamper with the food?
  9. Does the source of information and related details appear credible?
  10. Are there similar complaints in the Issue Management System (IMS)? Do the complaints appear to be related?
  11. Is the complainant an employee or former employee of the manufacturer/importer?
  12. Has there been recent labour unrest, disgruntled employees or layoffs/dismissals at the manufacturer/importer?
  13. Has the retailer or manufacturer been associated with a previous tampering incident?

11.2 Process, Roles and Responsibilities

The key to the overall management of food tampering investigations is working with police authorities at the local, provincial and national levels.

Local police conduct investigations at the local level, the Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are responsible for investigating incidents that may have province-wide or national implications. The primary responsibility for the investigation of perpetrators of tampering incidents rests with local police authorities.

The RCMP maintains information that may be helpful in identifying individuals who may have been involved in incidents elsewhere.

The CFIA plays an important role in the initial identification of tampering incidents and in their ultimate resolution, from a food safety perspective.

In the event of reported cases of food tampering or tampering threats, the OFSR will coordinate the emergency response on behalf of the CFIA in collaboration with the appropriate Regional Director and Area Operations Coordinator.

In cases where industry sectors have established emergency response and / or tampering protocols, the CFIA will work with the sector to coordinate overall response to address public health and security concerns. Area CFIA offices have ensured that local contacts with police jurisdictions are current, in the event that police advice with respect to tampering threats is required on a priority basis.

The following operational procedure is intended to address the CFIA's role in the coordination of an expeditious response to tampering incidents:

  1. The investigation of tampering incidents shall be given the highest priority. Whether received directly from the public or by referral (from another health agency, a poison control center, or the police), care must be taken to follow proper investigational procedures. Particular attention must be given to any report of atypical injury or illness directly attributable to a food product.
  2. Area Executive Directors and Regional Directors shall take the lead to establish a liaison network with regional hospitals, police authorities, and related public health partners to ensure prompt sharing of information and investigation of tampering incidents.
  3. Area operations may have a tampering protocol based on the Incident Command System (ICS) which clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of each participant, and the resources, expertise and laboratory capabilities available to assist in the investigation. Where the tampering incident contaminant is unknown, unusual or requires specialized analysis, the laboratory capability will be coordinated nationally by the Executive Director, Food Safety Science Directorate. This information should be included in the CFIA Area response procedures and updated as necessary.
  4. The OFSR is to be advised immediately of all tampering incidents (potential and confirmed) during and after business hours, and shall coordinate notification of international food regulatory agencies, as appropriate.
  5. Where tampering incidents involve a food product originating outside the region where the incident occurred, the ARC/RRC, of the Area of product origin, is to be notified immediately on receipt of the first indication of the incident. This action is to be taken by the Area initially receiving the information. The OFSR will ensure communications protocols are followed.
  6. The Regional Director is to immediately advise the local police and the manufacturer, importer or distributor in the region of any tampering incident associated with the company's products. Key industry associations will be advised by the OFSR and / or National Program Directors, as appropriate.
  7. The expertise and resources of the CFIA shall be made available to other public health partners, the police authorities and the manufacturer / distributor / importer in tampering incidents where significant adverse effect is possible. This includes, as may be appropriate, the request for provision of a Health Risk Assessment by Health Canada, participation in the investigation to define the origin and characteristics of the tampering, the analysis or screening of product to identify contamination, the invoking of the CFIA's emergency response procedures for food recall to ensure the effective and efficient removal of product from the marketplace, and the consideration of public warnings to alert the public. The OFSR will coordinate the request for a Health Risk Assessment from Health Canada as required.

11.3 Public Warning

The CFIA will give consideration to a public warning in the following circumstances:

  • A threat assessment to determine the validity of tampering allegations is unavailable or incomplete; and
  • Tampering investigations have confirmed the possibility of contamination of food products in distribution to the consumer level, and the health risk posed warrants a public alert.

In the above circumstances, a general public warning through the news media, either national or local as appropriate, through specialized news media, e.g. professional or trade press, or to specific segments of the population such as physicians, hospitals, pharmacists, etc. will be given consideration. It is the policy of the CFIA to encourage the manufacturer, importer or distributor of the food products in question to issue such an advisory. Existing communications protocols, such as Health Canada's physician, hospital and pharmacy emergency communications protocols will be accessed, where appropriate.

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