Health Canada has released an updated version of its “Policy on Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-to-Eat Foods,” which replaces the previous version from 2011.

The updated policy 2023 was created by Health Canada with input from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Public Health Agency of Canada to safeguard the health and safety of Canadians. The updated policy is designed to provide guidance on activities related to Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods for effective control measures, ensuring the early identification of Listeria in food processing environments. The policy takes into account the roles and responsibilities of government, industry and consumers.

The Listeria policy will be effective beginning Oct. 1 with the previous version of the policy remaining effective until that date. The Food and Drugs Act and Regulations apply to all food sold in Canada, including food traded at interprovincial and intraprovincial levels, whereas the Safe Food for Canadians Act and Regulations apply primarily to imported or exported food or food traded interprovincially or territorially for commercial purposes.

Health Canada is responsible for administering the Food and Drugs Act’s provisions related to public health, safety and nutrition. The updated Listeria policy is intended to support the interpretation and application of the Act. Health Canada’s policy provides guidance on the manufacturing, preparation, packaging, preservation and storage of food for sale under unhygienic conditions, and the sale of ready-to-eat foods containing Listeria monocytogenes exceeding the specified levels may be considered a violation of the Food and Drugs Act.

The CFIA is responsible for the enforcement of the food-related provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and takes into consideration the standards, guidelines and policies established by Health Canada. The Listeria policy will be applied during federal food inspections. The CFIA provides guidance to ready-to-eat food manufacturers and importers to comply with the control measures described in the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations.

Provincial/territorial food regulatory authorities may apply similar policy considerations when enforcing their food laws. Health Canada’s updated Listeria policy can serve as a resource for this purpose, but it is not intended to provide guidance on legislation outside of Health Canada’s jurisdiction or mandate. Ultimately, it is the industry’s responsibility to produce safe food and comply with Canadian legislative requirements, according to officials.

The Listeria policy classifies ready-to-eat foods into two categories based on their potential to support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes. The policy takes into account the potential for the growth of Listeria monocytogenes and the presence or levels of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods to determine appropriate control measures. Listeria monocytogenes is unique among foodborne pathogens, as it is widespread in nature, can grow at refrigerated and freezing temperatures and can survive in the environment of food processing plants for extended periods. Listeriosis is a severe disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes infections, which have mostly been linked to ready-to-eat foods that are not further prepared before consumption.

The updated policy provides guidelines to ensure the safety of ready-to-eat foods to safeguard Canadians from Listeria monocytogenes infection. Health Canada’s “Policy on Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods” is available as a 50-page PDF, including definitions of terminology used in the policy and hyperlinks to relevant sections, figures or tables. The full PDF can be found here.

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