Canada is running a couple of years behind the U.S. when it comes to overhauling its basic food safety law, but very shortly it will catch up. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has opened a three-month public comment period on new food safety rules to implement Canadian law.

Referred to as a “consultation period” under Canadian law, the comment period ends April 21.

Safe Food for Canadians Action PlanThe Safe Food for Canadians Act, S-11, was adopted by the Canadian Senate on Oct. 17, 2012, and approved by the House of Commons on Nov. 25that year. It gained Royal Assent on Nov. 22, 2012. Like the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the U.S., the Safe Food for Canadians Act has since been in the rule-making phase.

And like the FSMA, Canada’s new food safety law is designed to prevent food illnesses, not merely respond to them. The Safe Food for Canadians Act consolidates the authorities of the Fish Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Projects Act, the Meat Inspection Act and the food provisions of the Consumer Packing and Labeling Act.

According to CFIA, the consolidated act, along with its implementing rules, will:

• Make food as safe as possible for Canadian families;
• Protect consumers by targeting unsafe practices;
• Implement tougher penalties for activities that put health and safety at risk;
• Provide better control over imports;
• Institute a more consistent inspection regime across all food commodities; and
• Strengthens food traceability.

CFIA reports that 14 sets of existing rules have been combined into one to implement the new law. The agency did extensive work with stakeholders, including small businesses, from 2013 to 2015. It is making information and guidance available to food businesses including videos, interactive tools, fact sheets, templates and handbooks.

CFIA also reports the changes address the very sort of modernization called for by the Report of the Independent Investigator in the 2006 Listeriosis Outbreak. The government called for an independent investigation into the outbreak after 22 mostly elderly Canadians died from Listeria contamination that was traced back to Maple Leaf ready-to-eat meats.

Toronto-based Maple Leaf is an iconic brand in Canada and the independent inquiry, known as the Weatherill Report made numerous recommendations that have influenced Canadian food safety actions ever since.

Canada’s food inspectors will also be playing with stronger hands under the new law. They will be able to obtain warrants by telephone, which will speed their access to facilities. And since inspection authorities will be for all foods, they will no longer have to back out because they are working under a specific authority, like the fish act.

The major rules for the FSMA are completed in the U.S., however, not all compliance dates have been reached.

With new food safety laws taking effect on both sides of the border, the federal governments in the U.S. and Canada are working together on their regulatory approaches through the Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) involving CFIA and its counterparts in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S.Food & Drug Administration in areas of plant health, animal health, meat inspection and food safety.

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