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Importing food to Canada: a step-by-step guide

Although the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) came into force on January 15, 2019, certain requirements are being phased in over the following 12 to 30 months. For more information, refer to the SFCR timelines.

On this page

Introduction

This guide describes the recommended steps you can follow to meet the requirements to import food into Canada and to maintain a food import licence. As an importer, it's your responsibility to make sure the food you import is safe and that it meets Canadian requirements.

For additional information refer to the frequently asked questions on importing food.

Before you import

Step 1: Know your food – what are the risks?

Are you knowledgeable about the food that you are importing? Importing safe food starts with having a good understanding of the food you import.

This includes knowing the following:

You are encouraged to work with your foreign supplier to ensure each of these:

Keep in mind

Under the SFCR, the supply chain may extend beyond the person who provided you the food before it came to Canada. The supply chain includes anyone who manufactures, prepares, stores, packages or labels the food before it comes to Canada.

You can find more information on how to meet this requirement under Step 3 and in: A guide for preparing a preventive control plan – for importers

Having a good understanding of the food you import will give you a strong foundation for developing your written preventive control plan (PCP). It will also provide you with confidence that your import process is effective at importing safe food that meets Canadian requirements.

Did you know?

You can find resources related to preventive controls including categories of food hazards and conducting a hazard analysis.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with Canadian requirements for importing food

As an importer, you should consider the following three categories of requirements related to food imports.

1. Food requirements

2. Importer requirements

These are key importer requirements:

3. Procedure Requirements

Step 3: Select an appropriate foreign supplier

Types of foreign suppliers

The type of foreign supplier you are sourcing your food from will affect the documentation you need to include in your PCP to demonstrate that you meet the foreign supplier requirements of the SFCR.

1. Importing food from a foreign supplier in a country that the CFIA has entered into a recognition arrangement with, and the food being imported is part of this arrangement

There are 3 types of recognition under CFIA's Foreign Food Safety Systems Recognition Framework. These are:

In general, the above recognition arrangements mean that we have assessed the food safety system in the foreign country and determined that it provides a similar level of food safety control as that provided by Canada's food safety system.

See the Foreign Food Safety Systems Recognition Framework, Canada's recognition arrangement with the United States (US), and Importing from specific countries for more information.

The following are minimum documentation requirements when importing food from a foreign supplier in the US under the Foreign Food Safety Systems Recognition Arrangement with the US; or when importing meat or shellfish from a foreign supplier in a country with an approved inspection system and from an approved establishment. In all cases the food being imported must be subject to the recognition arrangement.

For meat products and shellfish, you should regularly consult Importing from specific countries to confirm that there has been no change in the status of a foreign countries' approved food safety system or the establishments operating under it. You should keep a record of this verification activity.

2. Importing food from a foreign supplier that is part of an internationally recognized third-party certification program, and the food to be imported is subject to this program

As a food importer, you may choose to source food from a foreign supplier who is certified to an internationally recognized food safety certification program. In doing so, you must do the following:

3. Importing food from a foreign supplier that is not subject to the oversight described above

You may choose to source food from a foreign supplier who is not subject to oversight from a competent authority that is part of a food safety system recognition arrangement with the CFIA or that is not part of a third-party food safety certification program. This would include suppliers subject to private, company specific auditing programs or certification standards.
In this case, for each type of food you import your foreign supplier assurances should include:

Step 4: Preventive control plan – create it and implement it

Step 5: Develop a complaints and recall procedure

Before applying for your import licence, you must develop your complaints and recall procedure

Complaints procedure

Recall procedure

You can find more information about developing a recall procedure in Recall procedure: A guide for food businesses.

Step 6: Apply to the CFIA for your licence to import

When it's time to import

Once steps 1 to 6 are complete, you are ready to start importing.

Step 7: Provide the CFIA with information about each of your shipments

After you've imported

Step 8: Keep traceability records

Step 9: Preventive control plan – maintain it

Step 10: Implement the complaints and recall procedure as required

You can find more information about developing a recall procedure in Recall procedure: A guide for food businesses.

Annex A: other government departments

There are other government departments that regulate the import of food. It is important that you are aware what the specific requirements are for your imported food.

Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA)
The CBSA imposes custom duties and admissibility requirements at the point of arrival in Canada.
For more information regarding CBSA's requirements and tariff codes, see the Step-by-Step Guide to Importing Commercial Goods into Canada.

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)
You can obtain a business number or import-export program account from the CRA.
For more information regarding registering your business with the CRA, see Do you need a business number or a CRA program account?

Global Affairs Canada (GAC)
The Trade Controls Bureau of GAC is responsible for issuing import permits for goods on the Import Control List under the authority of the Export and Import Permits Act.
For more information on agricultural products that are subject to import controls see the Controlled products web page.

Provincial, territorial and municipal governments
Provincial, territorial and municipal programs focus on the food service industry (including restaurants and caterers), and the food retail industry. However, some provinces and territories have additional requirements for certain commodities.

For more information regarding provincial, territorial and municipal food safety systems and associated requirements, visit the website for the province, territory or municipality in your area. Here is a list of the various provincial and territorial ministries.

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