ARCHIVED - Report of What We Heard: Improved food inspection model
Consultation from March 28 to May 22, 2013

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Introduction

On May 22, 2013, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) concluded a second round of consultations on its draft model for improving food inspection in Canada. Stakeholders had been asked for their feedback on the revised draft and on ways that Canada's science-based inspection system could be enhanced. The Agency is proposing a single approach to food inspection that will provide consistent and appropriate oversight across all regulated food commodities - whether imported, exported or prepared domestically.

The CFIA consulted with:

  • CFIA employees including front-line staff,
  • bargaining agents,
  • consumer groups,
  • industry,
  • academia,
  • federal, provincial and territorial government partners, and
  • international trading partners.

Feedback from over 900 stakeholders was received in-person, via an online survey and by email, fax and mail. The CFIA carefully considered all feedback that it received as it finalized its approach. The final food inspection model is posted to the CFIA's website.

What we heard

Generally, stakeholders continued to support the CFIA's decision to move towards a single and more consistent food inspection system. Industry stakeholders in particular were very interested to see the final model in order to prepare their own operations.

Overall, stakeholders asked for more details about:

  • the CFIA's proposed licensing regime,
  • how preventive control plans should be developed and whether they would be broad enough to accommodate current process control or quality management systems,
  • how the model relates to the proposed regulations for imported food sector products, the Safe Food for Canadians Act and the Food and Drugs Act,
  • roles and responsibilities of key partners in food safety in Canada,
  • how the CFIA would assess foreign country food safety systems for comparability,
  • how the level of oversight would be determined,
  • how the model would be implemented and how existing licences and registrations would be treated, and
  • the CFIA's intent to develop an internal review mechanism.

Stakeholders noted that implementing the model would take some time and asked that it be done incrementally in order to provide enough time for regulated parties to make the necessary changes. Stakeholders also asked that CFIA inspectors be properly trained in the new approach and that the Agency consider providing training or other form of clear guidance that would help regulated parties achieve compliance.

How it connects

Stakeholders continued to ask how the CFIA's food inspection model relates to various federal legislation and other modernization initiatives at the Agency.

CFIA response
The CFIA is working on many fronts in a comprehensive and structured manner to improve food safety and consumer protection in Canada. The details of these efforts are explained by the Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan. Many of the concepts contained within the food inspection model complement or are shared by other legislative, regulatory and inspection program initiatives.

The new Safe Food for Canadians Act provides the legal authority for stronger food safety measures in Canada. The model, like the Act, makes numerous enhancements to import controls, traceability and increased record keeping requirements.

The CFIA is currently consulting on a new food regulatory framework until November 30, 2013 and developing regulations that would fully support the new inspection model and bring the Act into force. This work is expected to take up to two years.

Meanwhile, both the model and the regulatory proposal for imported sector food products propose a licensing regime and mandatory preventive control plans as a condition of obtaining a licence. Together, the model and the regulatory proposal strengthen oversight of imported food products and share the notion that all regulated food commodities should be treated equally. The CFIA's current consultations on a new food regulatory framework also propose similar concepts.

These and other initiatives are related and complementary. Together, these initiatives will allow the Agency to better deliver inspections, achieve greater industry compliance with food safety requirements and better protect consumers. Under the Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan, the CFIA will continue to modernize and build on Canada's food safety system over the next couple of years.

Licensing

Stakeholders continued to support the CFIA's proposal to license any party that imports, exports or prepares food for sale across provincial borders. Respondents reacted positively that this would

  • improve the CFIA's ability to recall food products and address food safety issues,
  • put all regulated parties on a level playing field,
  • provide a single automated portal for licensing and information on regulated parties,
  • reduce red tape, promote market access abroad and encourage more investment in Canada.

Pre-licensing conditions

Respondents wanted to know more details about pre-licensing conditions, including who could apply and how would the CFIA recognize preventive control plans.

CFIA response

Parties subject to licensing
Importers, exporters and those operating domestic establishments that prepare food for sale across provincial borders would be licensed. The CFIA is considering whether to apply specific criteria for some exporters in order to possess a licence and sell food internationally. Further consultations on licensing exporters are expected.

Not all operations involved in preparing food would require a licence. For example, operations not subject to licensing would include the following: parties operating establishments that sell food within provincial borders; parties that store, transport and retail food but do not import, export or prepare food; and primary producers including field crop growers and commercial fishers who must continue to meet the requirements of the appropriate legislation (for example, the Food and Drugs Act).

Food prepared for sale within provincial borders (intraprovincial trade) would continue to be

  • subject to the safety requirements of the federal Food and Drugs Act and to respective provincial legislation, and
  • included in the CFIA's food recall and surveillance activities.

Non-resident importers
The CFIA continues to examine whether or not it would issue licences to importers without a physical location in Canada. While the Agency will decide how to respond to the issue of non-resident importers in advance of new food regulations, any party importing food into Canada would still be required to have documents that describe and demonstrate how it meets Canadian food safety and regulatory requirements.

Preventive control plans
A key condition of obtaining a licence would be that industry develop, document, implement and maintain a mandatory preventive control plan that suits their activities and operations and meets food safety and regulatory requirements. Whichever plan is used or developed, CFIA inspectors would verify through continued inspection that it is effective in producing safe food and meeting regulatory requirements.

Respondents generally reacted favourably at having the flexibility to consider a number of process control or quality management type systems, including Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, the Global Food Safety initiative (GFSI) and Canada GAP (a food safety program for companies that produce, pack and store fruits and vegetables). Where it is required for international trade, HACCP would still be recognized under the new model.

In most cases, establishments currently using HACCP should be well positioned to meet the requirements of the food inspection model although they may have to include additional regulatory requirements to their plan.

Small businesses
Preventive control plans should be scaled and adapted to the size and complexity of industry operations. The CFIA is considering what type of additional guidance, including developing standard or generic “systems” models, it or other stakeholders could provide to small- and/or medium-sized businesses to help promote compliance.

Verifying applications and issuing licences
The CFIA plans to implement the food inspection model and its single licensing regime gradually. Existing registrations and licences will remain valid for the remainder of the period prescribed by regulation or as indicated on the certificate of registration/licence. Licences issued under the Canada Agricultural Products Act, Fish Inspection Act or Meat Inspection Act would be considered to have been issued under the Safe Food for Canadians Act, if there is a statement to that effect in the licence.

The Agency would verify that applications are complete and that applicants meet the necessary conditions. The CFIA anticipates that planned investments in technology would allow applications to be submitted electronically and be verified promptly.

Domestic establishments, exporters and importers dealing with high-risk product may be subject to pre-licensing inspection. The CFIA would prioritize those parties applying to be licensed for the first time. Additional service standards would be developed once the CFIA has determined its business requirements to administer a licensing system.

CFIA oversight

All respondents indicated that they support a consistent approach to oversight that is based on risk and focussed greater on industry controls. Respondents wanted to know how that level of oversight would be determined, including:

  • how risk would be determined and validated for each establishment,
  • how levels of oversight would be determined,
  • how oversight would take into account past compliance,
  • how oversight would be determined for establishments producing more than one commodity,
  • how to determine and communicate when facilities change risk levels, and
  • whether the CFIA will consider third-party systems and inspection results when determining risk ranking, oversight and inspection frequency.

CFIA response
The CFIA has always used a risk-based approach to determine the level of oversight it uses with regulated parties. The CFIA will continue to use various sources of information (for example, environmental surveys, Codex Alimentarius standards, inspection data and compliance data) and internationally accepted risk assessment methodology to determine its oversight activities.

However, the CFIA will be taking a more structured and transparent approach to determining oversight activities. The CFIA would continue to verify compliance but the frequency and intensity of oversight activities would now be adjusted based on risk and the regulated party's compliance history. Facilities producing food products that present a higher food safety risk to consumers and/or non-compliant facilities would likely be subject to a more frequent or intensive oversight approach compared to those facilities that present a lower food safety risk to consumers or those which consistently meet their regulatory requirements.

The framework behind this approach considers international benchmarks and would help determine

  • whether an inspection is required prior to licensing, and
  • how frequently the CFIA would verify domestic food establishments and importers.

The CFIA would rank food commodities according to their relative levels of risk. These risk categories would then help determine the level of oversight that would be applied. For example, regulated parties who prepare ready-to-eat foods such as chopped salads may be subject to a different level of oversight than those who prepare ready-to-eat foods that are more shelf-stable like honey products and dried pasta products and are less prone to the growth of pathogens.

Other criteria such as volume of production, targeted consumer base, preventive control plans, and compliance records that pertain to individual regulated parties would also be considered with the food commodity risk to determine the level of oversight that would be applied for that facility.

If the CFIA observes a trend in non-compliance at a specific operation, the Agency could:

  • enhance its oversight activities by adjusting the frequency, intensity or type of inspection activities which may include direct testing, and/or monitoring surveillance, and
  • apply other compliance and enforcement tools.

Other food inspection systems such as those implemented in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand are also adopting risk-based approaches that attribute risk rankings across food commodities.

The role that third-party systems might play in determining CFIA inspection oversight is being considered. Nevertheless, there are no plans to use third-party auditors in place of CFIA inspection activities or to base oversight solely on third-party audits.

Inspection

Respondents supported more consistent inspection across commodities and a balance between traditional inspection of products and shipments and examining industry's food safety systems and controls as a whole. This will require inspectors to take a more critical look at the complexities of current food processing and production environments and continue to identify food and non-food safety issues as well.

Common training

Respondents asked that CFIA inspectors have adequate training and have a common skill set in order to make decisions quickly and consistently.

CFIA response
The CFIA is providing its inspectors with an appropriate and established scientific foundation and inspection skill set that could be transferred across all commodities. This does not mean that inspectors will become generalists. Rather, the emphasis is on creating a common training background for all inspectors so that they and their skills can be available when and where required. Many CFIA inspectors are already receiving training with this in mind; their curriculum focusses on the advanced skills that are integral to the new model. This training will be a requirement for all new front-line inspectors before they enter the field and for other Agency staff that need to understand front-line work in order to better do their jobs. This training is being funded by money that the CFIA received in the 2011 federal budget.

Commodity expertise

Respondents also wanted the CFIA to retain commodity expertise to boost the system's overall integrity and to make sure that inspectors can assess industry preventive control plans.

CFIA response
The CFIA fully intends to keep specialization within its inspectorate. The CFIA anticipates that specialists and more experienced inspectors would be ideally suited to effectively evaluate industry's food systems and/or provide consistent advice to local and regional inspectors through the Agency's Centres of Expertise.

Compliance and enforcement

Respondents widely supported more predictable and transparent enforcement by the CFIA. Respondents noted that with a new inspection approach, CFIA inspectors will be expected to be able to enforce their decisions if compliance is not met.

CFIA response
The model does not shift any accountability; industry remains responsible for the safety of food products coming out of its establishments or for products they import. The single strategy proposed by the model complements that in the Safe Food for Canadians Act and would provide consistent and appropriate response across all food where parties fail to meet food safety or regulatory requirements. As the new food regulations are developed, this strategy will be reviewed and updated, as required.

Critical and serious food safety non-compliance
The CFIA would no longer issue CARs for administrative requirements that are not related to food safety. The CFIA is proposing to issue CARs only for cases of critical and serious food safety non-compliance. The CFIA would take immediate action (ie. product detained, production stopped) in addition to other available enforcement tools where there is critical and/or serious threat to public health and safety such as non-compliance. The CFIA would verify corrective actions and make sure they have addressed food safety. If this results in compliance, the inspector would close the CAR.

Compliance promotion
The CFIA recognizes that many regulated parties may need time to adapt to the new inspection model. This may include developing a preventive control plan for the first time, applying for a licence or making changes to their current operations and plans.

The CFIA is consulting on a proposed approach to compliance promotion until November 30, 2013. This approach includes the CFIA providing technical and educational outreach in a variety of formats in collaboration with other stakeholders such as industry, industry associations, non-government organizations, technology centres. The intent of this approach would be to help regulated parties understand their obligations and allow them to access information written in plain language.

For example, information on generic "model systems" will be made available wherever possible to guide businesses how to develop and implement preventative control plans. These model systems could assist industry in creating their own customized, preventive control plan suitable to the size and complexity of their operation.  These systems will support small and medium-sized businesses in particular to meet new regulatory requirements and will help raise overall industry compliance. In addition, the CFIA is also considering how it and other partners could provide more in-depth knowledge, expertise and guidance to assist regulated parties meet their regulatory obligations. More research in this area is required and will be described in a strategy that the CFIA anticipates publishing in 2014.

There will be a period of transition as the CFIA implements the new food inspection model and proposed food regulations. The CFIA will still take action when there is a case of non-compliance that impacts food safety or other regulatory requirements—this will not change. The CFIA's response will depend on many factors including:

  • circumstances under which it is identified;
  • potential impact or potential for harm; and
  • regulated party's compliance history.

Review mechanism
The CFIA made a commitment to implementing a mechanism by which it would address and review issues that are raised by regulated parties and others.

In 2012, the CFIA established a Complaints and Appeals Office so regulated parties, stakeholders and members of the public may register any complaints related to quality of service, administrative errors and certain other types of decisions made by the Agency with which they disagree.

In addition, the Safe Food for Canadians Act, when fully in force, will amend the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act to permit the Minister to designate CFIA officers who will conduct reviews of certain decisions made under the authority of an Act that the CFIA enforces and/or administers. Currently, there is no specific authority in the SFCA for a review officer to modify a decision made by an inspector or other CFIA official in the course of carrying out his or her responsibilities under legislation enforced by the Agency.

The ability of a review officer to verify, cancel or confirm prescribed decisions will require change to the existing food regulations. Without this authority, the role of the Complaints and Appeals Office is limited to making recommendations.

System performance

Respondents strongly supported steps to continuously measure how effectively food is inspected. Generally, all respondents supported an open, transparent food inspection system and a strong system that manages risk, responds appropriately and measures performance. Some stakeholders were concerned however about what type of information would be shared and in what manner would it be released publicly.

CFIA response
The CFIA is committed to becoming a more transparent organization and as such, is modernizing its approach to performance management. The CFIA has embedded within the model a systematic method of measuring whether Canada's food safety system is achieving its desired outcomes.

Establishing key outcomes for the system as a whole and measuring performance against them will allow the CFIA, regulated parties and other participants in Canada's food safety system to use the results to improve and become more effective at managing risks.

The CFIA will use several sources of data in the assessment process to reflect the complex food safety system, the many players involved and the scope of CFIA responsibilities. These sources could include a combination of current CFIA performance assessment tools such as field observation, quality management, internal audit, internal evaluation and surveys.

Results of the performance assessment would be used for

  • corporate reporting
  • benchmarking over time
  • conducting international comparative analysis
  • continuously improving program design, training and inspection delivery
  • adjusting work plans

More broadly speaking, this assessment will allow the CFIA to examine whether

  • food inspection is effective,
  • regulations are risk-oriented and proactive,
  • regulations are delivered as designed, and in a risk-based, consistent, efficient, relevant and professional manner,
  • all participants in the food safety system are accountable, are engaging and sharing information in a constructive manner, and are remaining confident in the system and in food safety.

This will also allow Canada to focus food safety on prevention and align itself with similar outcome-based approaches to regulation taken internationally by the United States and other trading partners.

The CFIA is establishing new inspection system verifiers to help embed this notion of continuous improvement within food inspection. These inspection system verifiers would conduct in-depth reviews of food safety plans in regulated party's operations in order to, among other activities:

  • confirm if food safety rules and standards are consistently and thoroughly followed and enforced,
  • confirm if the activities are consistently achieving expected results,
  • identify any universal challenges and/or concerns, and
  • identify opportunities to increase transparency.

The CFIA plans to further discuss with stakeholders how regulatory bodies, industry and third parties can cooperate to deliver performance assessment of food safety in Canada.

Next steps

A final version of the CFIA's improved food inspection model is posted on the Agency's external website. The CFIA will introduce changes incrementally, beginning in the fall of 2013 through to 2016.

The CFIA will continue to consult with stakeholders on its approach to risk-based oversight and system performance. The Agency also expects that ongoing consultations and development of new food regulations will spark further discussion and decision on key policy issues such as the licensing of non-resident importers and of exporters, and how the CFIA will recognize third-party verification and inspection results when determining its own level of oversight.

Implementation
The improved food inspection model represents the Agency's future approach to inspection. It applies food safety concepts that are recognized globally to Canada and it provides the foundation for new food regulations that will bring the Safe Food for Canadians Act into force.

Respondents indicated that they want a phased approach to implementation, with ample time to make the necessary changes to their business needs. The model's implementation is tied closely to the current work to develop new food regulations which are expected in early 2015.

The readiness of the small business sector and the definition of performance criteria have already been identified as other factors that will influence how the model is implemented.

Nevertheless, important steps are being taken to prevent risks and better manage food safety challenges. For example, the CFIA is developing a blueprint that would identify the process and people responsible for delivering the model's new requirements across regulated food commodities.

The CFIA is using significant Government funding from past federal budgets to train its inspectors. The Agency also continues to develop a core training program that would provide inspectors with a common baseline skill set and also prepare its inspectors to enforce the new regulations that are set out by the new food inspection model.

The availability of new information technology solutions and tools will also accelerate implementation. The Agency is making more information about the work we do and how we do it available to the public as well as investing in better tools and technology for inspectors to gather information, record their results and help make the right decisions more quickly.

Work is also well underway to apply the improved food inspection model to our inspection activities in animal health and plant health business lines, where appropriate. In time, this will fulfill the CFIA's vision for a comprehensive inspection approach with common inspection practices applied consistently across the Agency.

The CFIA understands that much of the detail regarding the inspection model will be examined throughout its incremental implementation. During this time, the CFIA will maintain its high level of engagement and transparency in the coming months that worked so well while the model was being developed.

The CFIA would like to thank everyone who shared their views and contributed to developing a stronger approach to inspecting food in Canada.

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