On January 15, 2019, the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) began requiring that most food companies in Canada comply with the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR). These regulations add new licensing, preventive controls, and traceability requirements.
The SFCA and SFCR regulate food products imported into or exported from Canada or traded between provinces. The regulations also apply to slaughter of food animals that may become part of meat products exported or traded inter-provincially. In addition, some of the traceability, labelling, advertising, and grading regulations apply to food products sold within a province.
Some requirements became effective right away, while others come into effect over 12 to 30 months, depending on food commodity, type of activity, and business size. See SFCR timelines.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for food safety in Canada. Before passage of the SFCA in November 2012, food companies had to comply with 14 sets of food regulations. The new law consolidated the regulations into the SFCR.
The purpose of the new regulations is to improve consistency of rules, reduce administrative load, and “enable food businesses to be innovative through outcome-based provisions,” according to Understanding the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations: A Handbook for Food Businesses. The SFCR also aligned food safety and consumer protection requirements with internationally recognized standards, such as CODEX Alimentarius.
Companies must still comply with food legislation established in individual provinces and territories.
Although the SFCA and SFCR cover many aspects of food production, they contain three major new features:
- Licensing is required for companies involved in the following types of business:
- Importing food or food products
- Exporting food (where an export certificate is requested)
- Manufacturing, processing, preserving, grading, treating, packaging, or labeling food to be exported or moved across the borders of provinces or territories
- Slaughtering food animals used for meat products to be exported or moved across the borders of provinces or territories
- Storing and handling imported meat products for CFIA inspection
Companies that already required licenses from CFIA can continue to use the current license until it expires, if the license includes a statement that it is also a license issued under the Safe Food for Canadians Act. Companies not previously requiring CFIA registration or licensing have until 2020 or 2021 to meet new licensing, preventive control, and traceability requirements, unless the company needs an export certificate or Certificate of Free Sale to export food.
- Preventive Controls are the key food safety control principles all food businesses must meet. The SFCR requires most food businesses to develop, implement, and maintain a written preventive control plan. The plan must document how a business meets requirements for food safety, employee hygiene, health, and competence, and consumer protection (including complaints and recalls). Exceptions to this requirement are:
- Food exporters who export products other than meat products or fish and do not need an export certificate
- Businesses with $100,000 or less in gross annual food sales, unless the business has any activity related to food animals, meat or dairy products, fish, eggs, processed egg products, or processed fruits and vegetables
Even if a business isn’t required to have a written preventive control plan, the business still must implement preventive controls such as sanitation and pest control.
- Traceability requires businesses to trace food forward to the immediate customer and backward to the immediate supplier. The traceability requirements apply to more food businesses than the licensing and preventive control plan requirements. Documentation requirement vary by type of business.
Recognizing the SFCR introduces new requirements, the CFIA seeks “to balance the need to protect Canada’s food safety system while supporting food businesses in their efforts to comply with the new regulations,” according to an article by Lyzette Lamondin, executive director of Food Safety and Consumer Protection at the CFIA. “The CFIA’s enforcement approach emphasizes working with businesses to help them understand the new requirements.”