Safe Foods for Canadians

This is the second in our summary of the new Canadian Food legislation.

Here we will address one of the stated reasons for the passing of the Act.  From the CFIA’s (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) summary of the Act:

“Strengthened food traceability:  Current legislation does not require food manufacturers and other regulated parties to have traceability systems.  The legislation provides the CFIA with strengthened authorities to develop regulations related to tracing and recalling food, and the appropriate tools to take action on potentially unsafe food commodities.  This includes a prohibition against selling food commodities that have been recalled.”

Boy have we come a long way.  Not so long ago, MS Word would tell me that “traceability” was not a word (back when we were talking about it as a neat feature of our SPC systems.)  No longer!  Now we offer complete systems for traceability, not just an extra feature of another solution.

The provisions of the USA Bio-terrorism Act of 2002, USA FSMA, and now Safe Foods for Canadians, all consider traceability to be a major concern.  Not to mention that the big box companies have even more stringent requirements.  Many food companies think they have it nailed, but there are serious holes and issues in most paper based systems.  The first and foremost is of course the possibility of error, transcription, or illegibility.

If you manufacture your own products, under BTA you are allowed a maximum of 24 hours to produce a complete recall list with SKU # and location.   If you co-pack, or ship to the Walmarts and Costcos of this world, you may have less than 4 hours.

In a paper world, production batch sheets are usually sorted by shift and placed in envelopes with supporting documentation.  Although I have met people who swear they can do a mock recall in less than 4 hours purely on paper, I can’t conceive of how they can do so accurately and completely:  It is easy to recall all of production lot 2012076, (it may all have shipped to the same big box warehouse!) but to recall all SKUs that contain or may contain liquid sugar 211093882 that entered the tank on May 15 2013, and the tank hasn’t been cleaned since then – that would be a neat trick.

Even worse: What do you do with this if the recall is for any product delivered by driver John Smith?  Or all products of JS Company delivered between Jan 14 and Jan 19?  And what if somebody dropped the batch sheets into a vat?

Canada isn’t there yet, but between the Safe Foods for Canadians Act, and the CFIA stepping up to provide regulations, I don’t think Canadian food processors have a very long window… and besides, it is just smart business, good manufacturing practice, good corporate citizenship, and limits exposure if you do need to do a recall.  Lack of clear traceability by definition means that a recall can be orders of magnitude larger than it would be with contained traceability.

FSMA in Canada

Our industry has been focused on FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) in the USA.  Granted it is a huge transition, and it affects food companies worldwide (at least any that ship food into the US), but there is another piece of legislation that affects Canadians, and anyone shipping into Canada.  That is the Safe Food for Canadians Act, which received Royal Assent on November 22, 2012.  Large portions of the legislation are not yet in force, but they will be.

Now, I am not a lawyer, but I did read the Act, and it reads fairly easily.  I’ll share some of its concepts over the next few blog posts.

Aside from the fact that it is 39 readable pages, and not full of run on sentences with generous use of “wherefore”, “heretofore” and “forthwith”, what really struck me is that it has teeth.

Fines may be a “cost of doing business” but most would not see years of imprisonment as such!

People who are convicted of contravening the Act can be subject to a fine of $5,000,000 and up to 2 years in prison.  If that contravention “knowingly or recklessly causes a risk to human health” the financial penalties are at the discretion of the court and up to 5 years in prison.  (Section 39 (3))

The Act also deals with the “company” being the transgressor with Section 39, subsection (4), which states:

“If a person other than an individual commits an offense under subsection (1), any of the person’s [corporation’s] directors or officers, or agents or mandatories, who directs, authorizes, assents to, or acquiesces or participates in the commission of the offence is a party to the offence and is liable on conviction to the punishment provided for by this Act, even if the person is not prosecuted for the offence.”

 So theoretically, the Crown can prosecute an individual for simply looking the other way, without trying the company itself.

Although the Act doesn’t specify regulations, it does “incorporate by reference” any regulations established covering a wide range of food quality and safety issues. (Section 52), and it specifically is intended to consolidate the provisions for food currently covered by the Food and Drugs Act, Fish Inspection Act, Meat Inspection Act, Canada Agricultural Products Act, and Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.  So (again I am not a lawyer, but as I read it), a Quality Manager could go to jail for having inadequate quality records!

However, there is some good news in the form of Section 39 (2) which states that:

 “A person is not to be found guilty … if they establish that they exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence”

 which I would take to mean that if you set up reasonable systems to monitor processes and ensure quality and compliance, that you are effectively shielded from any unintended breach of the Act.

The Unseen Heroes – Food Safety Professionals

According to Merriam-Webster®, a hero is: 

  1. a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
  2. an illustrious warrior
  3. a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
  4. one who shows great courage
  5.  the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work
  6. the central figure in an event, period, or movement
  7. an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idol

(Please forgive the gender… The dictionary distinguishes between Hero and Heroine.)

We all see the visible heroes – the men and women who serve in the armed forces; the first responders; the everyday people who perform acts of bravery to assist others.   Then there are the doctors and nurses in the ER.

But what about all the men and women who protect our food supply – the food safety professionals?

I just returned from the Food Safety Summit in Baltimore.  Our team was so impressed with the people we met.  These professionals work tirelessly to ensure that the food created in their facilities is produced using safe and certified ingredients and processes; tested for all know contaminants; and can be traced for swift recall if something goes wrong. In addition, they are often responsible for making sure that all of the processes are safe for those working in the factory.  These are the people who create the contingency plans so that disasters like Super-storm Sandy wreak as little havoc as possible.

They have to be up to date on ever changing regulations; work with multiple government and regulatory bureaucracies; and often are considered a necessary evil by their employers – after all they do not create any wealth and seem to always spend money.

So they spend long hours working with antiquated paper-based systems with one objective – protecting their friends, neighbours, and even enemies from all imaginable dangers in the food supply.


These too are heroes.