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Sampling procedures

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Sampling is the process of collecting and testing food, ingredients, the environment or other materials. Sampling is commonly used to monitor or verify the effectiveness of control measures put in place to prevent, eliminate or reduce to an acceptable level the hazards that present a risk of contamination to a food. Sampling can also provide assurance that incoming materials, finished products and water meet food safety standards.

It is important to collect food samples that are representative of a lot or a food contact surface being assessed. It is also important to ensure that samples are not compromised when being collected, stored or shipped, as this could lead to inaccurate results.

What is a sample

A collection of one or more units from a lot drawn for examination or testing purposes.

  • food sample units could be entire packages of food, portions of packaged food, or portions of food being prepared

What is a random sample

A sample in which all the units were selected randomly by chance, such that each unit in the lot had the same probability of being chosen at any stage during the sampling process.


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) created this document as guidance to help food businesses comply with the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations.

It's your choice

You may use other guidance developed by provincial governments, industry associations, international partners or academic bodies as long as they can achieve the outcomes identified in the regulations. Always ensure that the guidance you choose is relevant for your particular business, product or products, and market requirements

What's included

This document provides information on the sampling process, including:

  1. Why sample
  2. What to sample
  3. What sampling plan to use
  4. Where to sample
  5. How to sample
  6. Storing and shipping samples
  7. Testing the samples
  8. What to do with sample results

Refer to the Further reading section for additional sources of information that may help you establish sampling procedures.

What's not included

While this document provides general guidance on sampling, it is not exhaustive – the reason for sampling and where the samples are taken will be unique for each business.

Roles and responsibilities

Food businesses are responsible for complying with the law. They demonstrate compliance by ensuring that the commodities and processes for which they are responsible meet regulatory requirements. If a written preventive control plan (PCP) is required, the food business develops a PCP with supporting documents, monitors and maintains evidence of its implementation, and verifies that all control measures are effective.

The CFIA verifies the compliance of a food business by conducting activities that include inspection, and surveillance. When non-compliance is identified, the CFIA takes appropriate compliance and enforcement actions.

Sampling procedures

1. Why sample

Sampling is commonly used to:

Sampling is used to assess the presence and level of the following three types of hazards.

Biological hazards

Chemical hazards

Physical hazards

2. What to sample

The types of processes, treatment and food prepared in your establishment and the control measures applied will help determine the samples you should take.

The following are common types of samples taken in food production:


The surfaces in the area or environment where food is prepared are sampled to verify the effectiveness of cleaning and sanitation procedures. For example, samples of food contact surfaces are taken to test for:

Finished food

The food is sampled at the end of the production line, when it is packaged in its finished form, to verify that it meets specifications and is not contaminated.

Food in-line (during preparation)

Sampling food during preparation can help you assess its characteristics at a specific point in the process. It can also help you monitor critical limits to ensure they are met.


Water is commonly sampled to:

For more information see the guidance document Water for use in the preparation of food.

Incoming ingredients

Sampling incoming ingredients helps assess a supplier's food safety control measures.

3. What sampling plan to use

The sampling plan you select will depend on the reason for sampling. Statistically based sampling plans should be used when assessing final products. You can find information on sampling plans in the document General guidelines on sampling published by the Codex Alimentarius Commission

Information on sampling plans for microbiological analysis is also available in the document Microorganisms in foods 2: Sampling for microbiological analysis: Principles and specific applications published by the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Food.

4. Where to sample

Where to sample depends on what you are sampling and the reason you are sampling. The following provides examples of where different types of samples are taken based on what is being assessed.

Environmental samples

The sites for collecting environmental samples are selected according to what information you are trying to gather. For example, your goal may be to assess the effectiveness of your sanitation procedures in an establishment; or your goal may be to monitor the microbiological state of the environment while food is being prepared. The following are examples of sampling sites:

Sample sites can be grouped to obtain an assessment of common areas such as:

Food samples

Samples of a food in its finished state could be taken from a lot in storage to help assess its compliance.

Samples of food collected during preparation (to monitor characteristics such as temperature, pH or water activity) can be taken from the processing line at regular intervals (the beginning, middle and end of production).

Ingredient samples

Samples of ingredients can be taken when the ingredients are unloaded or in storage at the establishment - to help assess the effectiveness of a Supplier food safety assurance program

Water samples

To help assess the quality of the water source, water samples should be taken:

5. How to sample

It is important to practice proper sampling techniques to avoid contaminating samples and exposing yourself to contaminants.

Samples should be labelled with the information you need to link the results back to the food, ingredient or food contact surface being assessed. Sample labels should include:

The sample units should be representative of the lot. For example:

Collecting ingredient and food samples

When collecting samples:

Using aseptic techniques

When collecting samples for microbial testing avoid introducing microorganisms to the samples by following aseptic sampling procedures:

Quick tip

Take care when opening and closing sample containers. It is easy to contaminate a sample during this step!

There are many things that you can do to reduce the risk of contaminating your sample. The following points are things to consider when sampling.

Opening sample containers

Closing sample containers

Collecting environmental samples

When collecting environmental samples you should wear sterile gloves.

The type of surface to be sampled and lab capabilities will determine the type of swab that should be used (for example, fabric-tipped swab, swatches, sponges, gauzes and clothes).

Source water samples

Recirculating, processing and wash water samples

6. Storing and shipping samples

Samples for microbial testing can be compromised by the temperature they are exposed to and the time that goes by before they are tested. To preserve their integrity you should store and ship the samples at appropriate temperatures and within the time frames recommended by the laboratory.

To prevent contamination, deterioration, and other damage that could compromise the integrity of a sample during transportation:

7. Testing the samples

Samples taken to assess the compliance of a finished product should be tested at an accredited laboratory such as a laboratory accredited to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories by the:

The test should be within the scope of accreditation for the laboratory.

A recognized test method should be used such as those outlined in Health Canada's Compendium of food allergen methodologies, Compendium of methods for chemical analysis of foods and Compendium of analytical methods.

In regards to marine biotoxins in shellfish, the test method used can be:

8. What to do with the results

Satisfactory results provide evidence that your control measures are effective. Unsatisfactory results however, indicate that your control measures are not effective. You are responsible for the safety of the foods you prepare and need to take action when you obtain results that indicate a food safety situation or that your control measures are not effective. It is important for you to follow up with the corrective actions that are identified in your PCP.

Further reading

The following references contain information that helps explain food safety controls, demonstrates how to develop them, and provides examples. The CFIA is not responsible for the content of documents that are created by other government agencies or international sources.

CFIA references

Other references

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