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Importing and Exporting of Foreign Food in Canada: The New Standards and Requirements

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Importing and Exporting of Foreign Food in Canada: The New Standards and Requirements Aquilina Law September 10, 2021

Importing and Exporting of Foreign Food in Canada: The New Standards and Requirements

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (the “CFIA”) is the entity responsible for food regulation, animal and plant health and safety in Canada. The existing food control system was however developed prior to the creation of the CFIA, at a time where food technology was less evolved and supply chains were simple. As food technology has rapidly evolved and continues to evolve, the CFIA saw a need to develop and adapt to be more efficient in order to maintain Canada’s reputation as a world leader in food safety.

Following the enactment of the Safe Food for Canadians Act (the “SFCA”) in 2012, the CFIA released the finalized Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (the “SFCR”), both of which came into effect on January 15, 2019 in respect to some of the higher-risk categories of food, such as meat, eggs, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and dairy. For other categories, such as baked goods, food additives and prepared foods, the various SFCA requirements will be phased in over one to two and a half years depending on the requirement, type of activity and size of the business. Together, the SFCA and SFCR introduce the most significant changes to date to Canada’s legal framework for food products.

The CFIA consolidates 14 sets of existing food regulations into a single set of regulations. Notable laws and regulations that are replaced by the SFCR include: dairy products regulations, fresh fruit and vegetable regulations, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations, and the Meat Inspections Act, among others. By creating the SFCR, the CFIA hoped to “improve the consistency of rules across all types of food, reduce the administrative burden and enable food businesses to be innovative through outcome-based provisions”.[i] Although some of its provisions also apply intra-provincially, the SFCA and SFCR regulations cover imported, exported, or interprovincially traded food products. There are three key elements of the SFCR: licensing, traceability and preventive controls.

Licensing Licensing enables the CFIA to identify and manage food businesses across all regulated food sectors, collect information about the activities of such businesses, and take responsive actions when non-compliant activities are detected.

Licenses are issued to individuals and food businesses if they engage in the following:

  1. the processing, preservation, manufacturing, treating, grading, packaging and labeling, or slaughtering of food animals for interprovincial trade or export;
  2. the importing of food;
  3. the exporting of food that requires an export certificate; and/or
  4. the storing and handling imported meat products.

Conversely, licenses are not required if one engages in the following:

  1. the manufacturing or conducting of other processing activities on food to be sold and consumed within your province;
  2. the conducting of activities associated with growing and harvesting fresh fruits or vegetables; or
  3. as a retail grocery store, the conducting of food handling activities where the food is handled and sold on-site.

Traceability The traceability aspect of the SFCR requires all license holders to maintain records tracing food, both forward one step (e.g. to the immediate customer) and backward one step (e.g. to the immediate supplier). This allows for greater efficiency if unsafe food needs to be removed from the market.

Food businesses need to create and keep traceability documents, which include the following:

  • Identification of the food;
  • One step back (name of the person the food was bought from);
  • One step forward (name of the person the food was sold to);
  • Ingredients (if/when applicable); and
  • Food animals (if applicable, animals the business slaughters).

There are exceptions: grocery stores, bakeries, butcheries, and other food retailers are only responsible for tracing food one step back to their suppliers, and for restaurants, traceability requirements to not apply.

Preventative Controls Preventative controls refer to a combination of measures created to prevent food safety hazards and lower the chances of contaminated food entering the Canadian market. License holders and non-license holders will be required to implement Preventive Control Plans (PCP). The preventive controls related to food safety are based on the Recommended International Code of Practice General Principles of Food Hygiene Cac/Rcp 1-1969, Rev. 4-2003 and those related to humane treatment of food animals during slaughter activities are aligned with the World Organization for Animal Health’s Terrestrial Animal Health Code – Slaughter of Animals.

Overall, the implementation of the SFCR places Canadian food safety standards at the same level with international standards such as the CODEX Alimentarius, which enables Canadian businesses that export food internationally to use their SFCR licenses as proof that their food safety controls meet specific international control requirements such as those of the European Union.

Key Differences There are a number of key differences in procedures for meat products, fish and seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, and dairy products.

  • Prior to the new requirements, every shipment of meat had to be inspected by CFIA upon import. Now, the CFIA will determine inspection frequency based on risk and inspections of every shipment of meat is no longer required. If inspection is required, food will be sent to a license holder’s establishment that has a license to store and handle meat for the purposes of inspection.
  • The fish and seafood process no longer require Fish Import Notifications, and instead an import transaction information must be provided prior to or at the time of import. All fish and seafood importers must also meet the same PCP and food safety requirements of the SFCR. Prior to this change, importers were required to send fish and seafood products inspection results to CFIA. Lastly, unless CFIA identifies a shipment to be held, it can be cleared by CBSA at its final destination and moved into commerce – importers no longer need to wait for CFIA to release notification.
  • All importers of fresh fruit and vegetables require an import license, and membership with the Dispute Resolution Corporation (DRC) is now mandatory.
  • Shell and Processed Egg products importers require an import license, and importers are responsible for ensuring foreign suppliers have at least the same food safety control levels required in Canada. Such products no longer need to come from CFIA-approved establishments.
  • It was required for all cheese importers to have a cheese import license, which can be used until its expiration. Once expired, it must be replaced by the SFCR import license.
  • With SFCR, import declarations will be discontinued for dairy products.

Recognition of Foreign Systems There are requirements for the recognition (by the CFIA) of a foreign state’s inspection system and recognition of an establishment within that foreign state, currently only applicable to meat products and live or raw shellfish. The CFIA may grant recognition to a foreign state for their inspection system for meat products or live or raw shellfish if that inspection system provides at least the equal level of protection as that provided by the SFCA and SFCR.

An importer that does not have a fixed place of business in Canada is able to obtain a SFCR license as long as certain conditions are met. These conditions include having a fixed place of business in a country that has a food safety system or inspection system recognized by the CFIA, and shipping the food products from a country that has a food safety system or inspection system recognized by the CFIA. To date, the CFIA has only recognized the food safety system of the United States, as both countries have a Food Safety Systems Recognition Arrangement (FSSRA), which recognizes that they have comparable food safety control measures. For other countries, the CFIA recognition (if any) is limited to the inspection system specifically for meat and live or raw shellfish products. Canadian food businesses exporting foods that are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the United States can use their SFCR license to demonstrate that their food safety controls meet their U.S. importers’ requirements under the U.S. Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). Under the FSVP, the U.S. importer can refer to the list of SFCR-licenced Canadian food businesses to meet the U.S. FSVP rules.

Canadian food that can be qualified under the FSVP through the FSSRA includes:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Shelled eggs
  • Dairy (except Grade “A” milk and Grade “A” milk products)
  • Fish (except farmed catfish, catfish products and molluscan shellfish)
  • Maple
  • Honey
  • Other foods (such as snacks, cereals, and bakery products

Conclusion The new rules under the SCFR have and will continue to bring significant changes for Canadian food businesses. It is therefore essential for food importers and exporters to familiarize themselves with and prepare for the new requirements, some of which are delayed in coming into force for that purpose.

In the international realm, the Canadian food safety standards will now be consistent with international standards, enabling Canadian businesses that export food overseas to leverage their SFCR licences as proof that they meet food safety control requirements. This will be especially efficient for Canada-U.S importers and exporters, for which a mutual obligation framework exists. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[i] Government of Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency & Food Safety and Consumer Protection Directorate. “Understanding the regulations for food businesses: a handbook”, (2 December 2019), online: Introduction – Understanding the regulations for food businesses: a handbook – Food – Canadian Food Inspection Agency <> _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Article by Martin Aquilina, with assistance from Andrea Parodis

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you wish to seek legal advice, contact Martin Aquilina today.

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