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Ottawa begins to roll out new food safety measures and rules

New rules call for more timely and detailed reporting of problems and labels to let consumers know when meat has been mechanically tenderized

Almost a year after announcing its intention to overhaul national food safety rules, the federal government has unveiled the first of many measures it plans to implement through 2014.

Among the new measures going into effect on July 2 is mandatory labelling of steaks and roasts that have been mechanically tenderized — a process that increases the risk of E. coli contamination.

But consultations, which began after last fall’s passage of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, are still ongoing. On June 4, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will hold a food safety regulatory forum for consumer groups and the food industry. A number of members of the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition has signed up, and the CFIA may organize webinars to brief organizations that can’t attend the June gathering.

Under the new E. coli prevention rules, meat plants must develop plans for reviewing and reporting any instances of the bacteria found in a facility or the products produced there, and must “immediately take action” if any trend or unusual activity occurs. Production of ground beef or beef patties will require additional testing, and the CFIA will also step up its testing. The agency will also increase training for its inspectors and give them more authority to halt unsafe operations.

As well, if contamination results in foodborne illness, companies have to provide the agency with relevant information in a timely fashion and in a usable format. One of the problems discovered in the XL Foods’ E. coli outbreak last fall was that CFIA officials were presented with boxes of inspection reports which didn’t highlight any problems.

The measures are a step forward, but there’s another key step that needs to be taken, said Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

“Irradiation, when used with food safety interventions already in use, could essentially eliminate E. coli-related illness associated with ground beef,” he said.

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