USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is demanding Canada comply with recommendations from an audit of the country’s food safety for meat, poultry and eggs or it’s exports to the U.S. will be blocked. Canada was told 20 months ago by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that it needed to fix operational or procedural food safety weaknesses involving government oversight, sanitation and microbiological testing. CanadaianUSFlags_406x250The Canadian Food Inspection Agency now has only until mid-March to make those improvements. Canada did pass the “core criteria” for the country audit. CFIA got the bad news from FSIS during the exit interview after the United States completed an audit of Canada’s meat, poultry and egg systems during an in-country visit from May 28 to June 14, 2014. The audit, which was not published until Jan. 14 this year, finds Canada is maintaining an “on-going equivalence to the United States system.” CFIA has insisted that food safety is not being compromised in Canada and the improvements sought in the U.S. audit are being addressed. The U.S. wants Canada to begin taking samples and testing multiple surfaces for Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meat processing plants. After a deadly Listeria outbreak in 2008 the independent Weatherill report recommended increasing CFIA’s laboratory capacity, but left actual testing to processors. However, processors in Canada test only food contact surfaces for Listeria monocytogenes, not other areas were it could take hold inside a plant. The audit is based on visits to specific plants during which FSIS personnel found ceiling leaks, condensation and rust. Such sanitation issues caused FSIS to observe that Canada’s efforts are not equivalent to U.S. standards. The U.S. audit team demanded immediate corrections. Reaction to the stand-off in Canada is falling along party lines. The audit was conducted near the end of Conservative Stephen Harper’s nearly decade long tenure, but has become an issue for the newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)