In Canada alone, there are approximately 250 food recalls each year. Although some of these incidents are labelled as low risk, others have the potential to spread serious illnesses like E. coli, listeria and salmonella. As consumers, it’s important to stay informed about any food products that carry health risks—a fairly simple task given today’s excessive media coverage, accessible easily via TV, computers and cell phones. But did you ever wonder how an item gets recalled in the first place? Who identifies the safety threat? Who gets products removed from store shelves? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about how foods go from edible items to banned substances.
Finding the Trigger
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for monitoring and ensuring the safety of the food, animals and plants that may affect the health and well-being of the Canadian population. The CFIA can begin a food safety investigation once there is a reason to believe that a product is contaminated. There are various reasons for the initiation of an investigation, including:
- Illness outbreak
- Food test result
- CFIA inspection finding
- Consumer complaint
- Company-initiated recall
- Recall in other country
Other potential triggers can include information from law enforcement about food tampering, trade complaints, or even posts on social media websites. Once any of these triggers have been proved accurate, the CFIA can begin its four-step process to recall the contaminated product.
Launching the Investigation
Similar to pharmaceutical quality control, where products are monitored and tested to ensure that safety regulations are followed, food must also be closely observed. Professionals with food quality training examine edibles closely to avoid any widespread outbreaks of illness. When a product has been flagged as a potential risk to public health, the CFIA must begin an investigation. Its main goal is to determine what the food may be contaminated with and its origin. The CFIA will obtain detailed information on the food in question—where it was sold and whether it was used as an ingredient in other manufactured food products. Students enrolled in food safety training classes have been taught that there are strict labelling requirements for all food. Labels must always clearly indicate the country of origin, best before dates, nutrition, ingredients and much more—with this information, the CFIA can easily find the root of a contamination issue. What happens next? The CFIA will observe, test and review how the product is made to determine when and how the problem began. Finally, a health risk assessment request (HRA) will be sent to Health Canada to establish a risk level on the product in question.
The Recall Process
It’s important to note that a company is responsible for following all laws surrounding food safety and if one of its products is deemed unsafe, it’s that company’s responsibility to remove it from the market. The role of the CFIA is to inform the public and make sure recalled items are removed from stores. Three classes of a recall exist to determine the risk level of a product. During the HRA, Health Canada assigns one of the following three classes to the recalled item:
- Class I: High risk
- Class II: Moderate risk
- Class III: Low or no risk
Today, there are tons of ways to inform the public of a potential risk. The media is one of the main outlets that the CFIA will use to send out important messages—however, the information can also be found via Twitter, RSS feeds, widgets and mobile apps. But what if the investigation on a product is still ongoing? The CFIA will sometimes issue public warnings on a specific product that is under investigation—this way, consumers are advised of possible risks even before the item has been publicly recalled.
The Follow Up
Even after an item has been recalled, the CFIA still works to ensure that the company in question has taken action to resolve the problems that led to the recall. Making changes to a factory’s operating procedures is a good example of ensuring that the same problem won’t arise again.
It’s crucial to stay in-the-know about recalled food items that could be sitting in your pantry or fridge—and the CFIA has made it easy for anyone with an internet connection to find out what products have recently made the recall list. Why risk your health? Click here to check it out.
Have you ever had to throw away a food product that was recalled?