How we decide to recall a food product
Although the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) came into force on January 15, 2019, certain requirements may apply in 2020 and 2021 based on food commodity, type of activity and business size. For more information, refer to the SFCR timelines.
When there is reason to believe that food is contaminated or does not follow federal regulations, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) initiates a 5 step process to investigate and recall product if necessary.
Several triggers can start a food safety investigation, which could lead to a food recall.
- Illness outbreak - Public health officials identify a potential link between illness and a specific food.
- Food test result - Food test results obtained by the CFIA, industry, a provincial or territorial government or another country identify a possible health risk.
- CFIA inspection finding - CFIA inspection activities, such as visual observation of products and manufacturing practices or analysis of company records, detect a food safety concern.
- Consumer complaint - A consumer complaint is received about the safety of a food product.
- Company-initiated recall - A company informs the CFIA that it is undertaking a self-initiated recall.
- Recall in other country - Another country recalls a food product that is also present in Canada.
- Other triggers - Other triggers can include information from law enforcement about potential food tampering, trade complaints, information from consumer associations, or even posts on social media websites.
Food safety investigation
Food safety investigations are complex and involve several essential steps to determine if a food recall is required. When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the agency acts as quickly as possible to collect information and make decisions. Investigations are carried out by a variety of experts at the agency, including inspection staff.
- which foods could be unsafe
- where potentially harmful product has been distributed
- the root cause of the problem, if possible
- The agency must trace food products backwards through the distribution and production systems in order to determine where the problem occurred and trace the food forward to determine what specific products should be recalled.
- Distribution and product information is collected and analyzed including where in Canada the food was sold, product codes and expiry/best before dates.
- Once potentially harmful food is traced back to a production or processing facility or to an importer, CFIA inspectors immediately visit the site to inspect processing or production practices, equipment, conditions, and production and distribution records.
- CFIA inspectors also collect food samples for laboratory testing and identify any potential corrective actions the company should take.
Health risk assessment
If a potential health risk has been identified, a formal request for a health risk assessment (HRA) is submitted to Health Canada. The purpose is to determine what level of risk a specific food presents for the Canadian population.
Health Canada determines the level of health risk by addressing the following questions:
- What is the likelihood the food will cause illness?
- What is the potential duration and severity of illness?
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 agency's role is to inform the public, oversee implementation of the recall and verify that industry has removed recalled products from store shelves.
- Based on Health Canada's HRA, we determine the most appropriate action, including whether or not to recall product.
- If a recall is necessary, we decide what class to assign to the recall: Class I (high risk), Class II (moderate risk) or Class III (low and no risk).
- When a recall is necessary, the agency requests the company initiate a voluntary recall.
- The company is responsible for immediately contacting all of its accounts (for example distributors or retailers) that received recalled product and we provide guidance or assistance when needed.
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 (for example class of recall), we will issue an alert to the media.
- Recall information is available on our website, an email distribution list, Twitter, Facebook, web feeds, widgets and a mobile app.
- If food has been recalled, it is the responsibility of industry to remove it from the marketplace immediately.
- The agency conducts effectiveness checks to verify that unsafe food has been removed from store shelves.
The CFIA may heighten oversight and testing for a defined period of time, review its standards and policies or work with industry sectors or foreign countries to address trends that go beyond a particular company, sector or recall.
After recalled product is removed from the marketplace, the agency continues to work with the processor, manufacturer or importer to ensure that any problems that led to the recall are resolved.
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.
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