Information regarding certain labelling and packaging requirements for pre-packaged meat products during the COVID-19 pandemic
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has temporarily suspended some of its low-risk activities. Low-risk activities include those that do not immediately impact the safety of food in Canada such as inspections of non-food safety related labelling requirements.
While these low-risk CFIA activities are suspended temporarily, the CFIA will continue to do its part to protect the integrity of the food supply, while safeguarding plant and animal health, and supporting the health and safety of its employees.
In the event of a food safety issue, the CFIA will take immediate appropriate action to protect consumers.
Labelling and packaging requirements for pre-packaged meat products
Canadian laws and regulations remain in force, including those related to food labelling.
However, the CFIA recognizes that circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic may make it difficult for industry to comply with all regulatory requirements while ensuring safe food is available for consumers in grocery stores.
Accordingly, the CFIA will exercise enforcement discretion to temporarily provide flexibility for non-food safety labelling and packaging requirements for pre-packaged meat products. This temporary measure is further to the one implemented on April 6, 2020 for labelling of foodservice products.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, pre-packaged meat products sold at retail must:
- meet Canadian food safety requirements
- have labels that are not false, misleading or deceptive
- provide the following information, as applicable to the product
- a common name
- a list of ingredients and Canadian priority allergen and gluten source declaration
- a name and contact information for the person responsible for the food
- a net quantity (in metric or imperial units)
- a lot code identifier (such as date of production, best before date, lot number)
- storage instructions, expiry date, best before date
- directions for use (such as safe cooking instructions)
- food safety statements for meat (for example, previously frozen, mechanically tenderized meat)
Any of the product information listed above can be provided in any legible format or in any place on the label.
If the product information listed above is not on the label, it can be applied to or may accompany the food packaging in any legible format and by any means, such as a sticker or a highly visible sign at the point of purchase.
The information must be available to the consumer or final purchaser.
Language requirements for labelling
Product information listed above is, where required, to be provided on the label of the pre-packaged food in both English and French.
Any product information listed above that cannot be provided in both English and French due to factors relating to COVID-19 must be made available by other means, such as a sticker, a leaflet, a highly visible sign at the point of purchase, or on the retail business website (with instructions on how to access it).
Provincial laws relating to bilingual labelling would also apply.
Examples of scenarios where this enforcement discretion would apply
The CFIA's enforcement discretion with respect to labelling and packaging as described above would apply to the following pre-packaged meat products sold through a Canadian retailer:
- meat products made for Canadian retail sale or foodservice use
- meat products made for U.S. retail sale
- meat products that do not meet standardized container size requirements
This list is not exhaustive. Additional scenarios could be considered and if you need further guidance, you may contact the CFIA by email at email@example.com.
Requirement for documentation
The CFIA intends to return to its normal enforcement approach when events allow.
To facilitate this, it is critical that regulated parties document the pre-packaged food products sold to which the enforcement discretion set out in this notice would apply. Documentation would include:
- traceability documentation as required under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR)
- how COVID-19 led to the need to sell food with non-compliant labels
- the nature of the non-compliance
- the actions taken to prevent or minimize any risk to human health
- steps taken to return to compliance at the earliest opportunity
Most importantly, regulated parties must notify the CFIA if food safety issues arise.
Duration and application of this measure
This notice applies immediately to pre-packaged meat products packaged and labelled prior to this publication and packaged and labelled while this notice is in effect. Please note that on September 4, 2020, the duration was extended to December 31, 2020. After this time, this measure no longer has effect.
Requirements for specific situations
Existing regulatory requirements for specific situations continue if applicable, including:
- Requirements for pre-packaged food products returned to Canada
Canadian pre-packaged food products being returned to Canada from the U.S. must be accompanied by any previously issued CFIA proof of Canadian export certification for that food as stipulated in the CFIA's Automated Import Reference System (AIRS).
- Requirements for frozen raw breaded chicken products for sale at retail
In addition to the labelling information described above and other food safety requirements, frozen raw breaded chicken products that were prepared for sale for foodservice use must meet one of the Salmonella control options before they can be sold at retail.
- Other regulatory requirements
Activities other than labelling (such as importing, freezing of meat) related to pre-packaged food products that are subject to the SFCR licensing requirements must be conducted in a federally regulated establishment. All other SFCR requirements continue to apply.
The CFIA's long-standing enforcement and compliance policy has always been to respond to non-compliance with fairness, impartiality and transparency. The CFIA will continue to do so with the additional considerations raised by COVID-19 in mind.
While all food labelling laws continue to apply, the CFIA wishes to assure industry that it will exercise its enforcement discretion in a flexible manner and will take into account challenges faced by industry during this unprecedented time.
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