Canada Scores Low on U.S. Food Safety Audit

A recent assessment of Canada’s food safety procedures may prompt consumers to think twice about what’s for dinner. The audit, completed in 2012 but released only last month, evaluated the systems that process meat products being prepared for export to the United States. Inspectors with the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) visited two red-meat slaughterhouses, four meat-processing plants, an egg processing plant, five government offices including Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) headquarters, and two private laboratories between Oct. 22 and Nov. 9, 2012.  In the end, FSIS deemed the facilities “adequate,” the lowest possible rating it could issue in order for Canada to continue exporting meats south of the border.

Sanitation non-compliance

Students and professionals in food safety training understand the importance of following hygiene protocols – particularly when it comes to processing meat. During visits to various facilities, FSIS found non-compliances with regard to sanitation, including remnants of meat and fat in wall crevices. When the auditors visited XL Foods in Alberta, the site of the largest beef recall in Canadian history, they also found dust on ventilators and blowers. The auditors criticized the presence of paint and rust flakes on overhead pipes and rails, citing the potential for contamination. Nonetheless, the official report observed that CFIA took immediate remedial measures and instituted long-term preventive plans to strengthen regulatory oversight.

Inhumane conditions for animals

One of the other areas deemed lacking by FSIS was the identification and remediation of animal safety hazards. During site visits, auditors noted that the cages and grates used to herd cattle to slaughter frequently fell on, and injured, the animals. In addition, inspectors observed protruding steel bolts that injured cows while in holding areas. As a result of the infractions, CFIA plans to add extra oversight to its food safety certification program. The agency plans to establish a permanent verification office in the spring, which will carry out independent reviews of food processing plants. The recent low rating from FSIS is not the only catalyst for change; the E. coli outbreak of 2012 exposed serious shortcomings at CFIA and prompted the call for extensive reform.

Contamination is ongoing cause for concern

Anyone in the business of food quality control, or training in a food safety course understands that meat contamination – particularly E. coli – is an ongoing concern in Canada. In October of 2013, two companies were forced to recall frozen beef burgers because of E. coli contamination. Toronto-based Belmont Meats and Loblaw’s brand Sunspun burgers were both identified as infected, leaving the CFIA scrambling to corner the contamination and track down its origins. The recent audit reveals that the system is far from perfect – and that Canadian meat is now under critical scrutiny by both regulators and grocery store consumers.