The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) received an “adequate” rating – the lowest passing grade – in the latest audit by the U.S. government to determine its equivalency on food safety standards, according to documents recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to the audit, the CFIA needs to improve oversight of practices at meat facilities related to hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), as well as sanitation and humane handling of animals.
The CFIA is said to have taken immediate corrective action after being informed of sub-standard issues with establishments and oversight. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) conducted the audit from October 22 to November 9, 2012, but did not release the audit report to the public until December 2013.
The audit aimed to verify the ability of the CFIA to regulate red meat, poultry and egg products in a way that ensured an equivalent level of safety when compared to U.S. products, the report states.
As part of the audit, FSIS personnel visited two red meat slaughter establishments, four meat processing establishments producing ready-to-eat meat products, and one egg processing facility. U.S. inspectors also visited five Canadian government food safety agencies and two private laboratories conducting food testing for microbiological and chemical contaminants.
At a beef slaughter facility involved with a large recall in 2010, U.S. inspectors found a lack of compliance with HACCP protocols, as well as concerns related to sanitation and humane handling of animals. Inspectors also found sub-standard sanitation practices at a swine slaughter plant.
In addition, auditors requested further clarification on the CFIA’s ready-to-eat policy and the agency’s E. coli program. Those requests are pending, according to the report.
The CFIA has reportedly implemented a wide-reaching plan to “develop and implement a sustainable internal inspection oversight role that allows for continuous system improvement.”
Because of the audit grade, food imported to the U.S. from Canada will be subject to closer scrutiny than food from countries with food safety systems rated as “average” or “well-performing.”
Lax food safety standards led to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 and a massive recall at Canadian beef packer XL Foods in September 2012. At least 18 people were sickened in that outbreak – with more likely uncounted – and 8 million pounds of beef were recalled.
A Canadian government review panel blamed the XL Foods incident on food safety oversights by both the company and by CFIA staff working at the facility.
Along with the government of Mexico, the Canadian government is contesting rules for country-of-origin labeling on meat that recently became mandatory in the U.S. Tyson Foods has said it will no longer take Canadian cattle for processing due to the new rules, which require labels on most meat products indicating where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently said the dispute over origin labeling should be settled by the World Trade Organization.© Food Safety News