Importation of food and plant products for trade shows and exhibitions in Canada

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1. Basic Guidelines

Food and horticultural products are subject to strict import controls in Canada. However, there are some exemptions for small amounts of product intended only for sampling or other free distribution during a trade show, exhibition or similar event.

If this situation applies to you, check this guide for an informal outline of related requirements. Then, for specific details on permits and other documentation, consult CFIA's Automated Import Reference System (AIRS). Required permissions and permits would be coordinated through CFIA's Center of Administration. Finally, if you have questions about the process, contact an import coordinator at the CFIA Area Office closest to the event you plan to attend, or the CFIA National Import Service Center.

Note that any required permit or authorization should be obtained as early as possible before the planned import - at least six weeks prior to the event. In some cases, an import broker may be contracted to assist exhibitors with such arrangements.

Some additional guidelines:

Documentation: All accompanying documentation must be in English or French. For products requiring proof of origin certification, see Memorandum D11-4-2 for more information.

Novel or high-risk products: Animal or plant products that are new to the Canadian market will require a product assessment, so relevant information should be forwarded to the appropriate commodity program at least a few weeks earlier than necessary. High risk products (i.e. dairy products) for event use may either be imported under the same Animal Import/Export requirements as a commercial shipment, or with an animal health import permit.

Regulatory changes: Changes to these requirements may occur at any time, owing to events or regulatory changes in your country or Canada. While the CFIA will contact any permit holders in such an event, you should re-confirm that you have met all current requirements prior to shipping any products.

Product safety: You and/or your importer or legal representative are responsible for the safety of any products offered for sampling during a Canadian event. They must be transported, stored and displayed in a way that prevents deterioration or contamination. Health and safety inspections may be conducted at any time by CFIA representatives, with unsafe or infested products returned to their place of origin or destroyed under CFIA supervision - at the importer's expense.

Sales and distribution ban: These regulatory exemptions apply only to products being distributed without charge during trade shows or exhibitions. Sales at the event, or distribution outside the event (e.g. food banks), is strictly forbidden without prior CFIA authorization.

2. Aquatic Animals (i.e. Fish, Shellfish, Other Seafood)

Definition: Fish, crustaceans, molluscs, other aquatic animals and all products composed thereof.

May require either an aquatic animal health import permit, zoosanitary export certificate from the country of origin, and/or a fish import license or exemption permit. Consult AIRS.

Fish Inspection Program

  • 1000 kg or less: An import permit is required [FIR, s18.(1)]. The application must describe the event and date, product, quantity and origin.
  • More than 1000 kg: A Fish Import Licence is required.

Vacuum-packed smoked fish products must be frozen at the time of production (refer to Smoked Fish: Storage Conditions), imported frozen, and kept frozen until used, unless the oxygen permeability of the packaging material is equal to or greater than 2000 cc/m2/24 hours at 24°C and 1 atmosphere.

Live or raw molluscs and shellfish, whether frozen or unfrozen, must be harvested, handled and processed in a manner which ensures they are safe for human consumption. Refer to the Importing Live and Raw Molluscs and Shellfish page.

Aquatic Animal Health Import Program

The Aquatic Animal Health Import Program regulates species of finfish, molluscs and crustaceans listed in Susceptible Species of Aquatic Animals. It does not regulate other aquatic species such as marine mammals, aquatic invertebrates and aquatic plants. This includes any finfish, mollusc or crustacean, or any part of a finfish, mollusc or crustacean at any life stage, as well as any germplasm of those animals. If the species to be imported is listed as a Susceptible Species of Aquatic Animal, then an aquatic animal health import permit and zoosanitary export certificate from the country of origin will be required.

Aquatic Animal Importation
Application for Permit to Import Aquatic Animals and/or their Offal (CFIA/ACIA 5670)

3. Dairy Products

Definition: milk or a product thereof, whether alone or combined with another agricultural product, containing no oil or fat other than that of milk (e.g. butter, cheese, milk powder, etc.). A milk product is defined as: "partly skimmed milk, skimmed milk, cream, butter, buttermilk, butter oil, whey, whey butter, or whey cream, in concentrated, dry, frozen, or reconstituted or fresh form".

From the United States:

  • 100 kg or less: proof of origin.

From other countries:

  • 100 kg or less: Zoosanitary Export Certificate issued by an official certifying body of the exporting country, in English or French, including details of which CFIA approved treatment the product has undergone.

4. Eggs and Egg Products

Definition: Shell eggs, whole eggs, egg yolks, egg whites, egg mix or egg products (with eggs accounting for a minimum of 50% of the weight) in their liquid, frozen or dehydrated states.

Maximum quantity: 5 cases (5 x 30 dozen) of shell eggs, or 100 kg of processed eggs.

From the United States:

  • Proof of origin (e.g. customs invoice)

From other countries:

  • Zoosanitary Export Certificate issued by an official of the exporting country, specifically designated for such purposes by the central veterinary service of the country of origin. Certificate must indicate which CFIA approved treatment the product has undergone.

Eggs or egg products will be detained at their first point of arrival in Canada, and the CFIA must be contacted to provide an authority to release.

Importation of eggs and egg products as samples destined for food exhibition may be exempt from the Health of Animals Regulations if the importer has an existing Permit to Import Samples.

5. Potentially Injurious Organisms (other than plants)

Definition: Potentially injurious organisms (other than plants), which are or may be plant pests, may be contaminated with plant pests, or are shipped with host material that is or may be a plant pest or contaminated with a plant pest. These include organisms such as invertebrates (e.g. insects, mites, earthworms, snails, slugs) and micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, viruses).

Import conditions for potentially injurious organisms are based on the plant health risk they present to Canada. Some potentially injurious organisms may only be imported under containment, and cannot be released into the environment. These organisms can only be imported for specific end uses, including for exhibition/display purposes.

Importers must submit an application for an import permit to the CFIA's Plant Health Permit Office. Applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if a permit is required, and whether additional import conditions (e.g., shipping, containment) are needed to mitigate plant health risks.

Plant Importation
Application for Permit to Import Plants and Other Things under the Plant Protection Act (CFIA/ACIA 5256)

6. Meat and Meat Products

Definition: meat or by-products derived from mammals or birds, regardless of quantity or state of processing (i.e. canned versus raw), not including meat from reptiles, amphibians, or marine mammals.

From the United States:

  • 100 kg or less of meat products other than beef: proof of origin; outer carton marked "Sample - not for sale".
  • 100 kg or less of beef products: Official meat inspection certificate (FSIS 9135-3) issued by a USDA veterinarian with required BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) statements.

From other countries:

  • 100 kg or less of any meat product:
    • Eligibility depends on country of origin, species of meat product, and level of processing (i.e. cooked vs raw);
    • Importer must obtain an animal health import permit prior to importation, or will be refused entry on arrival in Canada. The permit will state what other documentation is required;
    • A Zoosanitary Export Certificate issued by an official of the exporting country may be required;
    • An animal health risk assessment may be required.

Meat Importation
Permit Application

7. Non-Federally Registered Food Sector Products (i.e. baked goods, baby food, alcohol, etc.)

Definition: a wide range of products, including infant foods, alcoholic beverages, bakery products, and cereal products.

All products must meet appropriate testing and safety specifications allergens, microbiological, chemical or other risks (pesticides, heavy metal, non-permitted colours etc.).

Import control of alcoholic beverages is performed by provincial and territorial liquor control boards. Please refer to our Alcoholic Beverages page.

8. Pet Food

Definition: pet foods may include commercially prepared foods (i.e. wet or dry shelf-stable products), raw pet food (i.e. for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or BARF diets), pet treats (e.g. rawhide, chews, dried animal ears, bones, hooves, pizzles, etc.), supplements (e.g. mixtures containing vitamins, minerals, fish oils, etc.), and/or commercial samples (i.e. for laboratory analysis, feeding trials or display). This includes products destined for companion animals (e.g. dogs, cats, birds, fish, etc.), exotic pets (e.g. reptiles, lizards, bearded dragons, turtles, tortoises, etc.), laboratory animals, or zoo animals.

For samples containing ingredients of animal origin:

  • Importation is subject to a case by case evaluation by the CFIA;
  • At end of event, must be re-exported to country of origin, or disposed of per permit.

Pet Food Policy
Permit Application

9. Plants and Plant Products

Plant Importation
Application for Permit to Import Plants and Other Things under the Plant Protection Act (CFIA/ACIA 5256)

a. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Definition: produce supplied fresh to the consumer or for food processing (e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, edible mushrooms and truffles); excluding potatoes.

A letter of exemption issued by the CFIA to the importer or broker, valid only for the duration of the show, must accompany each consignment of the product.

A permit to import and a phytosanitary certificate may be required depending on the origin and nature of the product.

No import permit is required for tropical fruits, but fruits grown in temperate regions are subject to evaluation, and the importer must apply for a permit.

b. Miscellaneous Plants

The person in charge of the event in Canada must apply for an import permit to the CFIA permit office. The application must specify the scientific and common names and precise origin of each plant.

c. Potatoes

Definition: potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) supplied fresh to consumers or intended for further processing.

Exhibitors must always apply for an import permit.

The importation of potatoes from countries other than the continental United States is prohibited.

d. Processed Fruits and Vegetables, Honey and Maple Products

Definition: fruits and vegetables that have been canned, cooked, frozen, concentrated, marinated or otherwise processed; also honey and maple products such as syrup, sugar and maple taffy. Processed foods must be sound, wholesome, fit for human consumption, manufactured from sound raw materials, and packed under sanitary conditions.

Products imported for a national or an international exhibition, are exempt if the shipment weighs 100 kg or less and is not for sale. A custom invoice and import declaration form marked "for exhibit, food show, taste/test marketing" is required for the import of processed fruits and vegetables and honey. A custom invoice is required for the import of maple products.

Import requirements for Processed Products

e. Seeds, Grains, Forages and Grain Products

Seeds, grains, forages and grain products can present a plant health risk to Canadian agricultural and forestry resources, acting as a pathway for the movement of pests.

Exhibitors must apply for a permit to evaluate the phytosanitary risk associated with the import.

Some commodities may be prohibited, require treatment, or be otherwise regulated, which will be identified when evaluating the permit application.

Import of Tree and Shrub Seed into Canada
ABC's of Seed Importation into Canada

f. Wood and Wood Items

Wood and wood items, including bark, from all areas of the world must apply and obtain an import permit before entering Canada.

Application for Permit to Import Plants and Other Things under the Plant Protection Act (CFIA/ACIA 5256)
Import process

Note: packaging materials such as crates, boxes, pallets, bracing etc. made of solid wood, from all areas of the word except the continental United States, must be treated to meet Canadian import requirements. The use of untreated wood packaging materials will result in the refusal of entry into Canada. Please refer to the Entry Requirements for Wood Packaging Material into Canada.

Appendix 1: Other Government Department Requirements

In Canada, while food and horticultural imports are mainly regulated by the CFIA, other departments have related responsibilities.

The importer is solely responsible for ensuring your products meet all Canadian import requirements.

Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA)

CBSA collects customs and excise duties, and performs initial border control.

Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD)

DFATD issues permits to import certain commodities, without which you may pay higher customs tariffs, under the authority of the Export and Import Permits Act. The following agricultural products are accordingly subject to additional controls:

  • Chicken, Turkey;
  • Broiler Hatching Eggs and Chicks, Shell Eggs and Egg Products;
  • Cheese;
  • Butter, Margarine;
  • Ice Cream, Yogurt, Other Dairy Products;
  • Barley and Barley Products;
  • Wheat and Wheat Products; and
  • Beef and Veal from countries not participating in the (North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Environment Canada (EC)

Some commodities are regulated by Environment Canada (EC), under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This international agreement allows more than 160 countries to exercise control over the import and export of more than 30,000 plant and animal species and their derivatives listed in one of the three appendixes of the Convention.

Appendix I lists the most endangered species for which international trade is not permitted. Canadian regulation forbids all trade activities including sale, distribution or promotion of these species or their derivatives unless the product is subject to a specific exemption. Appendix II and III list the species that are permitted to be traded internationally where a CITES export permit has been issued by the CITES Management Authority of the foreign country.

A CITES permit must be obtained prior to export, and is valid only for one use unless otherwise indicated. An export permit from the Canadian authority is required in order to return the merchandise to the country of origin.

Appendix 2: Center of Administration (CoA)

The Centre of Administration (CoA) delivers and/or coordinates the full range of operational administrative services required for domestic and import related permissions. This includes licences, permits, and registration, excluding export certification activities.

The CoA is stakeholders' point of contact for all non-technical questions about CFIA issued permissions, which includes checking the status of an application, and seeking administrative guidance to complete an application or renewal for any of the services provided under "Permission".

Please contact the Centre of Administration for administrative permission-related inquiries:

Phone: 1-855-212-7695 / 613-773-0801


Web: Centre of Administration for Permissions (Licensing, Permitting and Registration)

Appendix 3: CFIA National Import Service Centre (NISC)

The National Import Service Centre processes import request documentation / data sent by the importing community across Canada. Staff reviews the information and return the decision electronically to the CBSA, which then relays it to the client or the broker/importer.

In addition, NISC staff handles telephone inquiries regarding import requirements for all commodities regulated by the CFIA and, when necessary, coordinate inspections for import shipments.

1-800-835-4486 (Canada or U.S.A.)
289-247-4099 (local calls and all other countries)

Web: CFIA National Import Service Center

Facsimile: 613-773-9999

Appendix 4: CFIA Area Offices (Area Import Coordinators)

West (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Territories)
4321 Still Creek Drive
Burnaby, BC V5C 6S7

1050 Courtney Park Drive East
Mississauga, ON L5T 2R4

2001 Robert-Bourassa Boulevard, Suite 671-X
Montreal, QC H3A 3N2

Atlantic (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland)
1081 Main Street
P.O. Box 6088
Moncton, NB E1C 8R2

Appendix 5: Event Commodity Importer Checklist

  • Confirm which category your products are classified in.
  • Check this guide for a snapshot of import requirements.
  • Consult Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) for specific details and requirements.
  • Coordinate any required permissions and permits through CFIA's Center of Administration.
  • Confirm if you need to contact another department for a permit or special licence.
  • Contact the Program representative for your commodity in the CFIA Area Office closest to the event, or the CFIA National Import Service Centre with any questions.
  • Make sure you or your representative submits any required applications at least two or three months before the event.
  • Ensure all products and their exact weight are included on declarations and invoices submitted to Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and CFIA.
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