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Prioritizing food inspections to help protect Canadians during COVID-19

November 2020

Prioritizing food inspections to help protect Canadians during COVID-19

In mid-March 2020, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) activated its business continuity plan to prioritize critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic, including food safety investigations and recalls, export certifications, animal disease investigations and laboratory testing.

The CFIA took immediate and decisive action to do its part to protect Canada's food supply and its employees. Upon reviewing its activities and services, maintaining food safety, food availability and market access for Canadian companies were deemed the CFIA's top 3 priorities.

By leveraging the Establishment-based Risk Assessment (ERA) model, the Agency was able to prioritize the activities and services required to help keep food safe for Canadians.

Using data to meet new challenges

The use of Disability Adjusted Life Years and the ERA risk categories within the different food sectors supported the Agency's decision to prioritize certain inspection activities. Foods associated with higher safety risks required more oversight than those with a lower risk profile.

This course of action was informed by the risk categories and data from the ERA model, which were used to prioritize the preventive control inspections of some food establishments in the dairy, maple, egg and honey sectors. The CFIA prioritized inspections of the commodities without ERA results by using established risk-based guidance. Thanks to this approach, the CFIA safeguarded the health and safety of its staff while refocusing efforts in areas of higher risk and towards activities related to food safety.

Pressing forward

"This peer-reviewed scientific model provides us with a consistent and efficient assessment of risk at food establishments level" says Jag Dhanda, Executive Director of the Information Management and Risk Directorate at the CFIA. "Using the ERA model results in a more consistent, predictable, and transparent assessment process for regulated parties licensed under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations."

Information for regulated businesses

The ERA model is currently being used to prioritize inspections in the dairy, maple, egg and honey sectors. However, licence holders across all commodities are encouraged to fill in the Additional Establishment Information (AEI) questionnaire in My CFIA.

This data allows the Agency to categorize some establishments based on their level of risk and determine how much oversight they require. If no information is provided, an establishment in the dairy, egg, maple, or honey sector may be considered high risk and may automatically require more oversight.

While the AEI can be filled in anytime during the year, it is important to update or complete it when a licence is renewed or whenever there is a change at an establishment. This ensures the model generates results using the latest data.

Ways establishments can help

Moving forward, operators are asked to follow guidance provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada and public health authorities in their region.

As outlined in the CFIA's expectations for the prevention of and response to suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 by operators, establishments are encouraged to document all of the preventative measures they have in place to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Some inspection services may be affected if public health guidelines are not followed.

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