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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 unsafe or does not follow federal regulations, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) initiates a 5 step process to investigate and determine if a food recall is necessary.

Food safety investigation and recall process. Description follows.
Description: Food safety investigation and recall process

This image represents the food safety investigation and recall process. The path is in the shape of an "S" and guides users through the 5 main steps.

The process starts at:

Step 1: Triggers

Several triggers can start a food safety investigation, which could lead to a food recall.

Step 2: Food safety investigation

Food safety investigations are complex and involve many steps to determine if a food recall is required and what food to recall.

Some of the steps include but are not limited to: Traceback, Traceforward and On-site activities.

Step 3: Health risk assessment

The findings of the food safety investigation may indicate that a food represents a potential health risk which needs to be assessed in order to make a decision to mitigate the risk.

Step 4: Recall process

A food recall is the removal of a food from further sale or use, or the correction of its label, at any point in the supply chain as a risk mitigation action. The recall process involves decision making, recall implementation, informing the public, and recall verification.

Step 5: Follow up

Once the recall is complete and the recalled food has been removed from the marketplace, the CFIA continues to work with the processor, manufacturer or importer to ensure that any problems that led to the recall are resolved.

The Canadian food supply is one of the safest in the world. However, no food safety system can guarantee zero risk. At any point in the production system, food can become contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals, undeclared allergens or material such as glass or metal fragments.

Step 1: Trigger

Several triggers can start a food safety investigation, which could lead to a food recall. Such triggers include, but are not limited to:

Step 2: Food safety investigation

Food safety investigations are complex and involve several essential steps to determine if a food recall is required and what food to recall. When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA acts as quickly as possible to collect information and make decisions. Food safety investigations are carried out by a variety of experts at the CFIA, including inspection staff, and will continue until complete and sufficient information is gathered to develop a strategy to mitigate the risk.

Objectives

Traceback/traceforward

Traceback activities help determine where the food originated, while traceforward activities help determine where the food was distributed. Both are routinely done during a food safety investigation.

On-site activities

Once potentially unsafe food is traced back to a production or processing facility, or to an importer, CFIA inspectors immediately conduct an on-site visit and may:

What inspectors observe, collect and document on-site is a critical piece of the food safety investigation.

Step 3: Risk assessment

The findings of the food safety investigation may indicate that a food represents a potential health risk which needs to be assessed in order to make a decision to mitigate the risk.

When a hazard is identified in a food in distribution, a technical risk assessment can be completed internally by CFIA experts or a formal request for a health risk assessment can be submitted to Health Canada. The purpose of these assessments is to determine the level of risk a specific food presents to Canadians by evaluating the likelihood of exposure to the food and the potential severity of the illness or injury.

Assessing the risk also determines whether actions are required and which ones would be the most appropriate to mitigate the risk. When it is known that a food recall will need to be considered as one of the actions, assessing the risk associated with the food in question becomes an essential step.

Step 4: Recall process

A food recall is the removal of a food from further sale or use, or the correction of its label, at any point in the supply chain as a risk mitigation action. It is the responsibility of industry to effectively remove the recalled food from the marketplace.

Decision making

Based on the risk assessment, the CFIA determines the most appropriate action to mitigate the risk, including whether or not to request a food recall.

If a recall is necessary, the CFIA also assigns a class to the recall, as follows:

Most recalls in Canada are voluntary meaning that they are conducted by the responsible company with oversight from the CFIA. If a company is unable or refuses to conduct a voluntary food recall, the Minister of Health has the power to order a mandatory recall for all food that poses a health risk.

Recall implementation

When a recall is the appropriate action to take, the CFIA requests that the company (now referred to as the recalling firm) initiate a voluntary recall.

The recalling firm is responsible for contacting all of its clients (for example, distributors or retailers) that have or may have received the recalled food.

The CFIA's role is to inform the public, oversee implementation of the recall, provide guidance and verify that industry has effectively removed recalled food from the marketplace.

Informing the public

The CFIA issues public warnings through the media to notify the public about high risk recalls and allergen recalls. Informing the public about high risk recalls is critical as consumers may have recalled food in their homes.

Find information on food recall warnings and allergy alerts. Subscribe to receive the latest recall information.

Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA sometimes issues public warnings while food safety investigations are ongoing. As the CFIA identifies additional recalled food, it will issue additional public warnings in order keep consumers informed of potential risk.

Recall verification

If food has been recalled, it is the responsibility of industry to remove it from the marketplace immediately.

The CFIA conducts effectiveness checks to verify that unsafe food has been effectively removed from the marketplace. If the recall is determined to be ineffective, the CFIA will request that the recalling firm redo the recall or will recommend that the Minister of Health issue a mandatory recall, as appropriate.

If a recalling firm is unwilling to remove the food from sale and appropriately dispose of it, the CFIA may seize and detain the food.

The CFIA will also verify that the recalling firm has handled the recalled food correctly. For example, if the recalling firm chooses to dispose of the recalled food in a landfill, CFIA experts may oversee the transportation of the food to ensure appropriate disposal.

Step 5: Follow-up

Once the recall is complete and the recalled food has been removed from the marketplace, the CFIA continues to work with the processor, manufacturer or importer to ensure that any problems that led to the recall are resolved.

Companies are responsible to prevent reoccurrence of the incident by implementing corrective actions and ensuring the disposition of the unsafe food. CFIA inspection staff will monitor the company to ensure the corrective actions are implemented effectively. The CFIA may also review standards and policies to determine whether revisions are necessary, as needed.

The CFIA sometimes works with industry sectors or foreign countries to address trends that go beyond a particular company, sector or recall.

Additional information

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 warnings and allergy alerts.

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