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Food

E-commerce, food

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is dedicated to safeguarding domestic and imported food, including foods available online.

Food products available online might not meet all Canadian requirements that help protect Canadians from preventable food safety hazards. Food misrepresentation can also pose serious health risks if, for example, unidentified allergens or hazardous materials are added to food products.

How can you help?

DO follow our tips when buying or selling food products online.

DON'T assume that all products available online meet CFIA regulatory requirements.

On this page

Food safety

Food safety issues can lead to serious health risks for Canadians and are costly for businesses. Some products sold online may not meet all applicable legal requirements and could pose a risk to human, plant or animal health.

Anyone who sells food in Canada is responsible for making sure it is safe to eat. The same health and safety requirements apply to online products as those sold in stores.

Food products can be contaminated with chemical residues, or pathogens such as E. coli or Listeria. They could also contain undeclared allergens or be improperly labelled (for example, false nutrition or health claims).

Consumers can help protect themselves and their families by following safe food handling practices at home and staying informed about food recalls and allergy alerts.

If you think you became sick or had an allergic reaction from consuming a food product, seek medical attention, and report a food safety or labelling concern.

Food allergens

People are much more aware of food allergies and their risks. However, even with that heightened awareness, you need to be alert to the risks of food allergies for the safety of those with this potentially life-threatening condition.

When shopping online, stick to food products that are made for the Canadian market which are subject to Canadian labelling rules. Products made for other markets may not follow the same rules for declaring allergens and the list of allergens of concern varies from country to country.

Resources are available to help you stay safe from having allergic reactions, including tips for avoiding known allergens in foods and fact sheets on different foods that can cause allergic reactions. Find out more about Staying safe with allergies.

Food as potential carriers of disease and pests

Some food can also contain harmful bacteria or viruses, parasites or chemical substances that may impact livestock and wild animals.

For example, African swine fever is a viral disease that only affects pigs and is not harmful to humans. While it has not yet been detected in Canada, it can be transmitted to a domestic or wild pig that has consumed infected human food.

Food fraud

When food fraud occurs, it can have economic and health impacts.

It could mean you're paying for or selling a product that isn't quite what you think it is. Such food misrepresentation may be unlawful and can pose a health risk to consumers, for example, if unidentified allergens or hazardous materials are added to food products.

Worldwide, food misrepresentation, a form of food fraud, is reported most often in:

As a consumer, you expect to get what you pay for and rely on food products sold online to be accurately represented.

Food fraud is not always easy to recognize. However, you can still play a role in identifying and helping the CFIA tackle food misrepresentation.

Food regulatory requirements

Those who engage in a food activity regulated by the CFIA are responsible for meeting applicable legal requirements under the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA), the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR).

This includes anyone who is importing, exporting or selling such products – even if they are doing it on a small scale online from their own home.

Provincial and territorial requirements may also apply.

Additional information for shoppers and sellers

Here are more dos and don'ts for:

Shoppers

  • Check the allowable quantities for food products for personal use, which are set out in the Maximum Quantity Limits for Personal Use Exemption, so you are not subject to legal requirements intended only for sellers.
  • The sending or conveying from one province to another, or the import or export, of a food is considered to be an activity carried out solely for personal use if the food is not intended for commercial use and if the shipment of food does not exceed the allowed maximum quantity.

Other things to consider when shopping for food online include:

  • Do your research and know who and where you are buying from – particularly if a product or source is unfamiliar to you.
    • Check independent reviews of the sellers and their products, not those featured on the company's website.
    • Contact the company and ask questions if product or shipping information is unclear.
  • Be aware of Canadian import requirements. Importers who do not meet Canadian requirements may, among other things, experience delays at the border or have their shipment held at the border or removed from Canada.
  • Check if the product has been recalled in Canada.
  • If you have allergies, check the labels carefully once you receive the product.

Other things to consider on food fraud include:

  • If a deal sounds too good to be true, it might be.
    • Food products that cost significantly less than the usual price may be diluted or use cheaper ingredients (for example, misrepresented olive oil, honey, and fish or organic products). Don't be fooled by the price.
  • Contact industry (such as grocery stores, manufacturers, producers or industry associations) to report concerns and ask questions about the information on the food label or how the food is produced.
  • Consumer awareness encourages industry to be more vigilant about how products are represented.
  • Everyone has a role to play in combating food fraud. Be aware of how food fraud impacts you.

More information

Sellers

Other things to consider include:

  • Notify the CFIA in cases of suspected food misrepresentations from your suppliers.
  • Check that the product is coming from a trusted supplier, see Supplier Food Safety Assurance Program.
  • Check the airline, transport, and shipping requirements.
  • Look into taxes, duties and customs.
  • Maintain good customer relations – answer their questions.

More information

By meeting applicable laws and requirements, following best practices, and providing information through accurate labelling, consumers are better protected from food safety risks and able to make informed food choices.

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