Food tampering is the intentional contamination of a food product, with the intent to cause harm to the consumer or to a private company.
Food tampering may affect any part of the food product, such as the product itself, or it can affect the packaging and the label.
Tampering with food is a serious matter and is a punishable offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.
In Canada, food tampering incidents do not happen often. However, it's important to be cautious and to familiarize yourself with the issue of food tampering.
Causes of food tampering
A person or persons may tamper with food for a variety of reasons, including:
- trying to draw attention to a "cause" by getting free publicity
- extortion for personal gain
- mischief or prank
- revenge, by causing financial loss or ruining a company's reputation
- reasons known only to the perpetrator
Measures to prevent food tampering in the food supply chain
The CFIA has emergency response procedures designed to protect food, plants and animals from accidental or intentional events. The Agency is ready to act quickly and effectively in response to emergencies that affect food safety and the agricultural sector.
These measures support
- our already strong surveillance and inspection programs (designed to detect the presence of hazards in food, animals and plants), and
- our well-established emergency food recall system.
The food industry reviews current procedures and controls:
- to take into account the potential for tampering or terrorist actions, and
- to make appropriate improvements.
Despite government and industry systems that are in place to monitor food safety, a product may still be contaminated at any point in the food supply chain, which extends from farms to stores.
Signs that food has been tampered with
It's sometimes hard to tell if a food has been tampered with or if it's just been accidentally damaged. In either case, you should not eat suspicious products.
Signs of tampering may include:
- packaging that has been opened and resealed;
- products that have damaged or missing safety seals or tamper-evident seals;
- products or packaging that is cut, torn, punctured or discoloured;
- products that are dirty or damaged;
- products with strange odour or flavour;
- cans or jars with signs of leakage, spillage or corrosion;
- vacuum-packed products with no vacuum seal;
- packaging that has been altered, including labels, product lot codes, and other identifying information; and
- the presence of a foreign object or non-food item in the product.
Steps to take if you find a suspicious food product at home: remember I-N-K
If you find a suspicious food product at home, follow these steps.
Isolate the food
- Don't eat any of the food.
- Get medical attention right away if anyone who has had contact with the food feels sick.
- Don't handle the food more than you need to.
- Carefully place all the food in a sealable container (even if it's half-eaten, partially-cooked, and so on). Close the container. Write "DO NOT EAT" on the container.
- Keep any unopened containers of similar product, but do not open them.
- Keep the food away from your regular food supply and away from your family.
- Don't feed the food to pets or livestock.
- Call the police right away to report the incident.
- Call the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) at
- 1-800-442-2342 / TTY 1-800-465-7735
- 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday to Friday
- Keep the container, packaging, label, receipt and grocery bag that came with the food.
- Write down any information you remember about the product, such as product codes, "best before" dates, where and when product was purchased.
Steps the CFIA takes in a food safety investigation
The CFIA and the company involved will work with the local police.
The CFIA will conduct its own food safety investigation as well, which can include
- retail and plant level inspections of the food manufacturing,
- health and safety risk assessments,
- detention of products,
- and follow-up activities into the scope of distribution.
If there is a threat to the public, the CFIA will inform the public.
Steps you can take to help recognize food tampering
There are several things you can do to help yourself recognize if food has been tampered with. They include the following:
- Familiarize yourself with the containers and the packaging of products that you buy, so that you know what they are supposed to look like.
- Examine food closely before purchasing it.
- Examine food closely when preparing it.
By personally inspecting the food you eat, you become an important part of Canada's food safety system.
The Government of Canada's role in food safety
The Government of Canada is committed to food safety.
Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the CFIA is responsible for verifying that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.
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