Language selection


Canadian Food Inspection Agency - Health Canada Food Sampling and Testing Terminology

This document was developed to harmonize the terminology used by CFIA and HC inspection staff, laboratory personnel and scientists involved in food sampling and testing activities. The terminology is related to food only and is in line with that used by the Codex Alimentarius, the USDA and other national food testing organizations. Personnel involved in human, animal or plant health activities may use different terminology.

Food sampling and testing are part of CFIA and HC daily activities, covering a wide range of activities including monitoring, directed sampling, compliance testing, pre-market surveys, post-market surveys and all other data gathering activities. Based on the design and the purpose of the sampling and testing, different terminology is used by both organizations. These activities may be referred to as surveillance activities in a broader perspective.

Monitoring is an unbiased sampling, the processing and analysis of samples to provide information on the occurrence and/or levels of chemical residues / contaminants, food additives, microbiological organisms and nutritional components in pre-defined sample populations. Monitoring information is normally obtained through random sampling. The sampled lots are not held and are usually available to consumers before the results are known.

Monitoring sampling is conducted to assess human dietary exposure, perform risk assessments, monitor trends, identify potential problems and at-risk population groups, set standards and guidelines, and evaluate the effectiveness of programs.

Directed sampling is biased, directed at targeted sample populations (e.g., commodity types or geographical areas) to investigate and verify any suspected problems of potential health risk suggested in the monitoring program.

Directed sampling is investigative in nature, and can trigger detention of product.

Compliance testing is directed at specific samples suspected of not complying with specific regulations and guidelines governing the sale and distribution of food. The product is usually detained until the test results indicate the appropriate disposition. The approach for compliance testing is referred to as in-depth sampling and follows Codex Alimentarius specifications. The establishment of a chain of custody of the sample is essential if legal proceedings are expected to ensue.

Compliance testing is a regulatory control measure to prevent the marketing or remove from market a product known to be contaminated or adulterated.


Special or pilot surveys are information gathering studies that do not meet the criteria of the other types of sampling methods above. They are usually limited in scope and duration. These types of surveys may be used to gather information about the occurrence of chemical residues, food additives, microbiological organisms and nutritional value. Special surveys also include pilot surveys, where information is gathered primarily to help improve larger, future collections (i.e. information for testing and refining: feasibility, collection methods, operational aspects, time/cost/sample size estimates)

Blitzes are used to obtain a snapshot in time at some point during the fiscal year. The scheduling of blitzes is unannounced. A blitz may allow for the sampling of every herd presented for slaughter for a specified, usually short, period of time not exceeding 2 to 6 weeks.

Legal sampling is undertaken for certain specific conditions where legal action is the anticipated follow up action. Certain additional criteria are demanded during the sampling submission and laboratory testing of these samples. Legal advice should be sought prior to the initiation of such activities.

Date modified: