Saskatchewan experts on new regulations aimed at making food safer

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WATCH ABOVE: Food safety practices from farm to fork are about to change when the Canadian government begins to roll out new consolidated regulations starting Jan. 15 – Jan 14, 2019

Our food is some of the safest in the world and new regulations surrounding the culture of ‘food safety practices’ in Canada, from farm to fork, will make it even safer.

On Tuesday, the federal government will begin to roll out new consolidated regulations after unprecedented levels of consultations with both stakeholders and consumers.

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The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations are aimed at making sure “food on grocery shelves is safer to eat, whether it is produced in Canada or abroad” and will put a great emphasis on preventing risks to food safety.

“It’s how we handle the food, it’s what we do with it, it’s how we manage it, it’s how we store it,” said Connie Kehler, executive director of the Saskatchewan Herb, Spice and Specialty Agriculture Association.

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“Food can be taken very good care of to the grocery level and the consumer can hurt it.”

In June, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced the final changes stating speed, volume and the complexity of food production have presented new risks and challenges when it comes to food safety.

These new rules are consistent with international food safety standards and businesses that import or prepare food for export will now need to have a licence to do so.

At this year’s Western Canadian Crop Production Show in Saskatoon, Garner Field with Seaboard Special Crops said he’s already seen a shift leading up to these regulations.

As a commodity merchandiser, Field said commodities even at the grain elevator level are now being treated like food.

“We’re moving toward food safety certification and making sure everything has the certification – our buyers want that too,” Field explained.

“With our new customers they want to see if you have food safety certification, if you have HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) and quality control points in place.”

The new regulations are built on three major elements: licensing, traceability and preventative controls. It will also change the way inspections are conducted.

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“You’re not going to have an inspector walk into your facility and say ‘here’s the list – I need to check off 70 per cent of it,” Kehler said.

“They’re now going to say ‘show us what you have,’ ‘show us how you address your risks,’ tell us ‘what you see as what the risks are’ and ‘show us how you make sure how those risks are identified’ and ‘what are you doing about them.'”

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As a result, this process will be tailored to each individual facility no matter the size and will be harder since it’s no longer a checklist.

To reduce the amount of time it takes to recall or remove unsafe food, most businesses working with food will now also have to maintain simple traceability records so they trace food bought from suppliers or where they sold it to – in the event something goes wrong.

“If you let that product go and the next facility doesn’t take care of it, the shipper isn’t managing it properly – you add risk. You add risk – you address risk,” Kehler said.

For some Canadian consumers, these changes may come as a surprise.

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“I would think people would think it’s already in place so this is shedding light on the fact that there is improvements to be made as in any industry,” Field said.

Overall, the regulations will strengthen our country’s food safety system but experts said they expect a few hiccups ahead.

“It’s going to be difficult for the industry to get their head around how to manage this and it’s going to be difficult for the inspectors to get how they’re going to inspect,” Kehler explained.

She anticipates the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will be short-staffed until more people are put in place and expressed kudos for the agency, saying these changes will benefit everyone from consumers to government to facilities in the long run.

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