Are you a food importer? New requirements may apply to you
If you import food into Canada, you need to be aware of new food safety requirements including licensing under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR). Depending on what you import, some of the new requirements apply to you immediately while others will be phased in gradually by July 2021.
The SFCR, which came into force January 15, provide clear, consistent rules across all food commodities so industry can best meet their responsibility to put safe food on shelves for consumers.
The new regulations align with international standards established by Codex Alimentarius. They also align with preventive approaches being implemented by many of Canada's trading partners. These international standards apply to food produced in Canada for export and interprovincial markets, as well as to food imported into Canada.
Safety controls required
Under the SFCR, imported food must be prepared with at least the same level of safety controls as food prepared in Canada.
"Importers need to understand the risks associated with the food they import. They need to work with their foreign supplier to control those risks," says Lyzette Lamondin, Executive Director of Food Safety and Consumer Protection for CFIA.
She adds that importers should also understand the supply chain by knowing who is manufacturing, preparing, storing, packaging and labelling the food before it comes to Canada.
Food safety requirements
If you are an importer, you need a Safe Food for Canadians (SFC) licence to import food into Canada, and you need to meet certain conditions in order to obtain a licence. For example, you need to have preventive controls, and in most cases, a preventive control plan (PCP). You can apply for SFC licences on the CFIA website using the My CFIA portal.
Importers are also required to keep traceability records. These are required to track a food commodity one step back and one step forward in the supply chain. This will allow for faster product removal from the marketplace in the event of a recall.
In addition, importers need to maintain procedures for handling and investigating complaints and recalls for food they import. The new requirements also apply to food that is imported for the purpose of exporting at a later date.
PCPs: a new requirement for some sectors
While preventive controls were required under the former food safety regulations, documented PCPs are new and mandatory for many businesses under the SFCR. Previously they were required only for the meat and fish sectors.
A PCP describes the hazards for a specific food and the food safety steps that a business is undertaking to control these hazards. CFIA's website provides a range of resources to help businesses develop a PCP.
In some cases, a written PCP is not required for businesses whose gross annual food sales are $100,000 or less.
Timelines for coming into force
In general, the new requirements apply immediately to businesses that import meat, fish, dairy, egg and processed egg, processed fruit or vegetable products, maple and honey as well as the licensing requirement for fresh fruits and vegetables. Preventive control and PCP requirements will come into force on January 15, 2020 for fresh fruit and vegetables importers as well.
Other sectors will be phased in gradually. For example, effective July 15, 2020, the licensing, preventive controls, PCP and traceability requirements will come into force for most businesses that import:
- snack foods
- non-alcoholic beverages
- dried herbs and spices
- nuts and seeds
- coffee and tea
- processed grain-based foods such as baked goods, cereals and pasta
For businesses in this sector that have less than $100,000 in annual food sales and fewer than five employees, the preventive control and PCP requirements will come into force on July 16, 2021.
Expiring registrations and import licences
Some businesses are currently conducting activities under establishment registrations and fish and cheese import licences that CFIA granted prior to the SFCR. As these registrations and licences expire, the import businesses affected will need to apply for SFC licences prior to the expiry date on the document.
Lamondin advises that importers with existing CFIA registrations should check the expiration date now, so they can apply for a licence prior to expiry.
Who can apply for an SFC import licence?
Only Canadian importers or qualifying non-resident importers (NRIs) may apply for an SFC import licence. To obtain a licence as an NRI, a business must have a fixed address in a country that CFIA formally recognizes as having a food safety system that provides at least the same level of protection as the SFCR.
Businesses from non-recognized countries are not able to apply for an import licence. These businesses can only import their food into Canada through a licensed Canadian importer. Visit CFIA's NRI page for more information.
Getting ready for the SFCR
Lamondin urges importers to prepare now for the SFCR by reading the regulations and guidance material.
Use the timelines and interactive tools to determine if and when the licensing, preventive control, PCP and traceability requirements apply to your business.
She recommends these steps to help importers get started with the SFCR:
- review the online guidance including Importing food: A step-by-step guide
- begin to work on a PCP and consult the guide for preparing a preventive control plan – for importers and Preventive control plan (PCP) templates – for importers
- enrol in My CFIA after reviewing Before you sign up for My CFIA to find out what information and documents are needed for enrollment
- read the information on licensing, including what to consider before applying for a Safe Food for Canadians licence and the import licence application on My CFIA
Lamondin says the regulations will benefit importers by ensuring all imported food is prepared according to Canadian and international standards.
"We recognize that the SFCR will require some businesses to make changes," she says. "But for importers, adapting to meet the new requirements is also an opportunity to instill confidence and trust in consumers that the imported food they buy has to meet the same high standards as domestic products."
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