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Processors consulted on food safety regulation

The new regulation’s intent is to allow innovation and flexibility for business while ensuring they follow safe food practices, government officials say

Garth Jarvis of Jarvis Meats in Gladstone knows business must follow food safety rules and regulations, but those who make the rules need to understand their impact on business, he says.

“A small business has to be able to afford to do it. That’s probably the biggest issue,” said Jarvis, who does custom slaughter for local ranchers.

Jarvis was among Manitoba food company owners attending public consultations on pending food safety regulation last week.

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development hosted consultation meetings in Winnipeg and Brandon recently to hear from those who affected by proposed provincial food safety regulations.

All food safety regulation in the province is now under review as the province moves to proclaim its Food Safety Act in 2015.

The food safety regulation will apply to any facility where food products are handled, processed, manufactured, prepared, packaged, stored or distributed, including abattoirs and dairy farms.

Jarvis is among an estimated 450 food processors and distributors in Manitoba now faced with additional licensing and procedural requirements,  including demands for written food safety programs, training and documenting procedures used by processors to ensure safe food handling.

Speaking in Brandon last week, Jarvis said he may have to hire extra staff to keep up with the new paperwork.

Jarvis said for local food processors, a reputation for being trustworthy and ethical means more to customers than a stack of papers or computer entries on spreadsheet.

MAFRD began conducting food safety inspections in 2009 and has been enforcing the province’s food and food handling regulation, said Diane Roberts, a MAFRD food safety specialist at the consultations to explain the document. Manitoba is bringing in food safety regulation to deal with the specifics of licensed food processors, she said.

“The food and food-handling regulation is really geared towards food retail and food serving handling establishments,” she said. “Our clientele are provincially permitted food processing facilities.”

Dave Shambrock, Manitoba Food Processors Association (MFPA) executive director said members of MFPA who’ve seen the proposed regulation are generally satisfied with what they see in it.

“It’s not bad news and it’s not unexpected.”

But it will place more demands on businesses owners and add complexity to their operating environment, he said. MFPA will offer training this fall to help businesses get up to speed with the regulation and help prepare the written food safety programs they
must provide.

“It’s going to challenging,” Shambrock said.

One of the more perplexing aspects of the regulation are who will be exempt. The regulation proposes to exempt those selling more than 75 per cent of their product directly to consumers because they will be regulated by Manitoba Health.

Some businesses don’t fall neatly into these categories, said Rudy Reimer, who spoke in Winnipeg. He said his fish and poultry farm, where they gut fish but also sell poultry consumer-direct is probably one of them.

“I’m probably your worst nightmare because there’s a lot of grey areas with us,” he said.

Jill Zacharias, manager of food safety programs with MAFRD’s Food Knowledge Centre, said the department wants feedback on the best way to classify operations as either the responsibility of MAFRD or Manitoba Health.

“This was probably the most challenging piece of the development of the regulations, this division between MAFRD and Manitoba Health,” she said.

The food safety regulation is intended to be outcome-based and risk-based, meaning they’re trying to create regulation that will ensure operators follow best safe food handling practices, without impeding innovation and flexibility in the food processing sector, Roberts said. The regulation was drafted after looking at food safety regulation in other jurisdictions and countries, and what was learned from feedback provided by MAFRD inspectors making their rounds, she said.

“We’re trying to improve the focus on food safety without stopping innovation and flexibility,” she said. “We’re not telling you how or which method you need to use. We’re saying which ever way you do it let us know how you’re going to do, be able to prove that you do it, and be able to show that it is effective.”

Requirements such as written procedures for keeping facilities clean are intended to help processors, by ensuring everyone on staff know the correct ways of doing things, she said.

“Inspectors were seeing rooms that are not being kept tidy, pest control issues, or there might be equipment maintenance to be looked at, or unprotected food,” she said.

There are four proposed regulations under the Food Safety Act, including the food safety regulation, an abattoir regulation, a dairy farm regulation and a bulk milk transportation regulation. They hope to have draft abattoir and dairy regulations ready for consultation shortly, Roberts said.

There will be a transition period for businesses to comply with the new regulation and the province is also providing resources including the Basic Good Manufacturing Practices Guidebook with customized templates and examples
to follow.

Online consultations with processors on the food safety draft regulations began last month and continue until June 11. The consultation document is posted at www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture under ‘Surveys and Consultations.’

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