Federal Food Guide Puzzles Food Industry

A new guide that’s supposed to help companies navigate the food-safety system instead has the industry scratching its collective head about the purpose of the document.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has posted an updated Guide to Food Safety on its web-site. It’s a voluntary tool to provide generic guidance on how to design, develop and implement effective preventive foodsafety control systems, the CFIA says. The document isn’t supposed “to supersede or replace any existing requirements of federal, provincial and territorial governments” or the various food-safety programs and codes of practice that have been implemented by farm commodity groups or the meat-and fish-processing sectors.

“We don’t know what we’re supposed to do with it,” said a food-safety expert who asked that his name not be used. “It has no regulatory provisions.”

It was produced by CFIA after consultations with the food industry and is based on an existing Codex Alimentarius document.

The guide has come out at a time when food-safety measures are under intense scrutiny. A joint government/industry/farm committee is examining foodsafety rules and procedures; and federal officials are working to complete the implementation of the 57 recommendations from Sheila Weatherill’s report on the deadly 2008 listeria outbreak. Both initiatives could result in changes to federal food-safety rules.

There are numerous food producers outside the regulated sectors such as meat and dairy, the expert noted.

“Are they expected to meet the requirements of the new guide if an inspector pays a visit?”

In Canada, food companies that don’t ship outside their home province usually fall under provincial regulation and standards that are different than those applied by the CFIA to companies shipping interprovincially or internationally.

According to the CFIA, “The guide will be of particular value to food manufacturers and importers who do not currently implement preventive foodsafety control systems” and will also be helpful to small operators entering food production or handling.

It was developed in support of the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan announced in December 2007 and should be of use to all food operators including importers, manufacturers, packers, distributors, retailers, food services and institutions, according to the CFIA.

While it should be of most benefit to companies without a food-safety system in place, it will also be helpful as a reference tool and training instrument for new employees in those companies with active programs, the CFIA notes. But in the end, it’s the company’s responsibility “to evaluate every part of its operation to ensure that you meet all applicable regulatory requirements.”

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