When it comes to importing food into Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) play vital roles in the supply chain. The CBSA is responsible for the initial import inspection of food and agricultural products and enforcing the CFIA’s policies and regulations at Canadian border entry points.
The role of the CFIA, on the other hand, is essentially to enforce food safety legislation by investigating food-related issues, including nutrition, tampering, quality and non-compliance with regulatory requirements. Among other things, its mandate also includes resolving any issues when produce may be on the market and posing a potential health risk, as well as overseeing the implementation of recommended risk management strategies for reducing or eliminating consumer exposure to hazardous food products.
Looking at Importing Food into Canada?
At any time, the CFIA may randomly inspect imported produce to ensure that it meets minimum requirements, including labelling, containers, health standards and composition. Contravening produce will be seized and detained until it complies – or if imported, it may be exported or destroyed. The first step to consider for any food importer, in order to avoid potential difficulties, is whether the type of produce you intend to import is admissible into Canada. The CFIA’s AIRS system is a great search facility for this, enabling you to check a wide variety of products.
Where Does Responsibility Lie if Product Is Unsafe?
It’s vital to trust the origin of any products you wish to import. While food manufacturers largely use numerous controls to ensure the products they manufacture and sell are safe for public consumption, sometimes mistakes are made and things slip through the net. Here are some of the more common examples:
• suspected food poisoning and foodborne illness outbreaks
• allergic reactions to food where ingredients may not be listed on labelling
• unusual objects such as metal, glass or hair found in food
• food contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites
• recalled food products being sold
If you think that because the problem with the product was caused at the manufacturing plant outside Canada, it’s their responsibility to deal with the problem, think again! When importing food, it’s your job as the importer to determine the nature and extent of the problem in a timely manner and to take prompt and appropriate action to protect the health of Canadian consumers.
This requires having what’s known as a ‘recall plan’ in place, in order to quickly remove all of the imported product from the market should you end up in the unfortunate position of having already sold it to somebody else before it transpires to be unsafe. Crucially, where the problem could be a health and safety concern, you must immediately contact the CFIA to ensure that your recall action decision is correct and to assist them in their investigation. Depending on the circumstances, appropriate action on your part may include one or more of the following:
• tracing and identifying products which are affected by the problem
• segregating products to prevent distribution
• ensuring that recalled products do not re-enter the market
• putting controls in place or revising existing controls to prevent similar problems in the future
A Canadian Customs Broker Can Ensure Compliance
The key point to take away from all of this is that successfully importing food requires familiarity and compliance with the rules and regulations pertaining to your product, before embarking on the shipment and customs clearance process. A Canadian customs broker is well-placed to help you obtain any licensing permits and supporting documentation you need to avoid delays, additional costs and potentially worse at the border. Seeking the advice of a Canadian customs broker is particularly fundamental if you are importing from a new supplier or intend to import a new product, which will inevitably carry greater risk.
Food products are one of the most commonly misunderstood imports. Orbit Brokers has over 25 years worth of experience importing food, and addressing the unique challenges it can bring. For more information on how a Canadian customs broker can help you import your goods into Canada, please give us a call at (905) 673-8798 and speak to one of our knowledgeable advisors today!