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Chemical residues in food

The chemical residue surveillance program of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) consists of three well-defined components. The first is monitoring sampling, which probes the food supply for potential contamination and is managed under the National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program (NCRMP). The second is directed sampling which focuses on identified chemical contamination issues and the third is compliance sampling, which seeks removal of food in violation of standards from the marketplace.

Limits for chemical residues and contaminants

Generally speaking, maximum residue limits (MRLs), maximum levels (MLs), guidelines, standards and tolerances are limits established by Health Canada to minimize potential health risks to Canadians from excessive exposure to chemical residues and contaminants in foods.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) tests a variety of foods available in Canada for chemical residue and contaminants. When test levels are above the established limits for the food being analyzed, results are referred to Health Canada for a risk assessment. Based on the risk assessment outcome, CFIA makes a final decision on whether further action, such as product seizure or recall, is necessary.

Limits are set at levels far below the amount that could pose a health concern. This is why foods with residues or contaminants over maximum limits can still be safe for consumption. In simple terms, limits can be described as traffic lights. When levels of residues or contaminants exceed limits, the traffic light turns yellow, indicating caution and the need for further assessment. That assessment determines if the food is unsafe (red light) or safe (green light).

Chemical residue reports

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Additional information

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) share responsibility for ensuring that Canada's food supply is safe.

The CFIA is responsible for the surveillance of chemical residues in foods and their adherence to Canadian Regulations.

Health Canada registers and regulates agricultural chemicals, including pest control products, veterinary drugs and food additives. In addition, under the authority of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, Health Canada sets the maximum residue limits (MRL) of chemicals in food products and establishes maximum allowable levels for environmental and industrial pollutants in food.

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