Foodborne illness sickens four million annually (one in eight) as well as 238 deaths and 11,600 hospitalizations.
The proposed Safe Food for Canadians Regulations puts an emphasis on preventing food safety risks for imports into the country or sold across provinces and for exports.
They would require businesses to have preventive controls to identify and manage risks before products are sold to consumers.
This would also reduce the time it takes to remove unsafe foods from the market.
Step by step
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) held a consultation in 2013 and a second round in 2014 with a focus on small businesses in 2015. This consultation closes on April 21.
“Currently, foods prepared in Canada or imported into Canada are not all subject to the same regulatory requirements, and some food safety requirements do not reflect advances in technology, science and food safety best practices,” said the agency.
The proposed Safe Food for Canadians Regulations would bring the Safe Food for Canadians Act into force, which was passed in 2012.
It would consolidate 13 commodity-based regulations plus the food-related provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations (CPLR) into a single one under the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA).
When fully in force, it will repeal the Canada Agricultural Products Act (CAPA), the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (CPLA), the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), the Fish Inspection Act (FIA) and the Meat Inspection Act (MIA).
The current regulatory framework has varying requirements and approaches for nine commodities and has not been regularly updated since the CFIA’s creation in 1997.
Some requirements for certain sectors would be phased in to reflect business size and different levels of industry readiness.
The estimated benefits of the proposed requirements are $137.3m annually, associated with food traceability as well as consolidation of regulations.
Estimated costs would be $138.2m per year associated with the use of preventive controls and such plans, food traceability, licensing of businesses and the CFIA regulatory implementation.
Other benefits include a more level playing field for businesses, increased international and domestic regulatory alignment and sustained market access for Canadian exports.
Food safety risk
The volume of fresh fruits and vegetables and non-federally registered sector (NFRS) foods imported has doubled, from $11.7bn in 2006 to $22.8bn in 2015.
“As consumers demand more convenient, ready-to-eat products (e.g. bagged salads), the risk of exposure to hazards also increases since these products are intended to be consumed without further cooking,” said the CFIA in the Canada Gazette.
“Consumers also increasingly expect foods to be available year-round, which increases demand for imported foods (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) that are often sourced from countries with underdeveloped food safety systems (e.g. from some countries in South America).”
From 2011, there have been 84 recalls related to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as 1,573 related to food from the NFRS.
For example, a listeriosis outbreak in 2008 linked to ready-to-eat meat products spanned five provinces and resulted in 57 illnesses and 23 deaths.
Associated costs (including medical, non-medical, productivity losses and federal government) were estimated to be $242m.
Major trading partners, such as the US, are adopting preventive controls in regulatory approaches.
CFIA said there is an alignment between the proposed regulations and the US Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act rules.
“The increased international regulatory alignment has the potential to increase trade opportunities for the food industry as it would maintain existing market access opportunities for Canadian businesses and support their expansion,” it said.
“Without the proposed PCP and food safety requirements, Canada would be out of step with its major trading partners that are moving to a preventive control regulatory approach to food safety, and this would put market access at risk.”
The CFIA is proposing a phased approach that reflects the different levels of industry readiness and the concerns of small businesses from immediately up to three years.
An exception from the written Preventive Control Plan (PCP) requirements is proposed for some regulated parties that generate $30,000 or less in annual gross food sales.