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Archived - Building the strongest food safety system possible

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Safe Food for Canadians Regulations begin Year Two with new requirements for various food sectors

The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) are one year old as of January 15, 2020 and while it's an important milestone, it's just the beginning of Canada's food safety modernization campaign.

"We're focussed on building the strongest food safety system possible for Canadians," says Tammy Switucha, Senior Director, Policy and Programs for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

"The SFCR are the foundation for continuous improvement in food safety regulations and processes. We've taken important steps forward in Year One and there are more to come."

The SFCR were finalized following several years of policy development backed by research, information sharing with international trading partners and consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

The regulations came into force January 15, 2019. Many requirements had to be met immediately while others are being introduced in 2020 and 2021 depending on food commodity, type of activity and business size.

Focus on prevention

The SFCR make Canada's food system even safer by focussing on prevention and allowing for faster removal of unsafe food from the marketplace. The regulations introduced requirements related to:

"We recognize that the SFCR introduce a number of new requirements for food businesses engaged in import, export or interprovincial trade," says Switucha, who is helping to lead the implementation of the regulations.

"Given the extent of the changes, we are seeing mostly positive results with the transition and increasing activity around licensing, with about 9,000 Safe Food for Canadians licences issued already."

Protecting Canadians at root of enforcement

In implementing the SFCR, the CFIA is balancing the need to protect Canada's food safety system while supporting food businesses in complying with the regulations, says Switucha.

"We have been using a graduated enforcement approach. However, we are taking appropriate action to address non-compliance based on risk. This is about protecting Canadians from getting foodborne illness and we cannot be complacent."

The CFIA has been informing businesses where they can find the information to help them comply with the regulations. The Agency has interactive tools and sector-specific timelines and other plain-language resources to help businesses determine which requirements apply to them and how to comply.

New requirements for fresh fruits or vegetables

The SFCR is being phased in for additional sectors and businesses in 2020.

Effective January 15, 2020, new requirements come into force for fresh fruits or vegetables (FFV) businesses engaged in import, export or interprovincial trade. These requirements relate to implementing preventive controls (including preventive control plans), and traceability requirements for growers and harvesters. Most other FFV businesses had to meet traceability requirements in January 2019.

Lot code labelling of consumer-prepackaged FFV also comes into force as of this date; however, businesses will have until January 15, 2021 to use up existing packaging.

Switucha urges FFV businesses to take immediate steps to learn about the new requirements and ensure compliance. She notes that leafy greens are among the highest-risk foods and this will be an important consideration in the CFIA's enforcement approach.

Manufactured food sector next in line

Another key date is July 15, 2020, when SFCR requirements will come into force for businesses in the manufactured food sector (MFS) that import, export or engage in interprovincial trade of their food. These businesses will require a SFC licence to manufacture, process, treat, preserve, grade, package and label food, and need to keep traceability documents effective that date. Most will also become subject to preventive control (including preventive control plan) requirements as of that date (although there are exceptions for certain small businesses).

MFS businesses subject to the SFCR include those which import, export and interprovincially trade food commodities such as: confectionary, snack foods, beverages, oils, dried herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, coffee and tea, baked goods, cereals and pasta.

MFS businesses are advised to learn about the requirements now. "Don't leave it to the last minute to get started," says Switucha. "It could take time for businesses to prepare for compliance."

Businesses can visit the CFIA's toolkit for food businesses for information about the application of the SFCR and resources to get ready for the new requirements. They are also encouraged to contact their respective industry associations for additional insight into the regulations.

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