A couple of your fellow grocers have expressed concern that the inspection standards are not the same for the growing number of ethnic (primarily Chinese) supermarkets as they are for
traditional Canadian supermarkets.
In visits to ethnic stores they’ve found numerous products labelled only in Chinese, not French and English as required by Canada’s Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. They’ve found other violations, such as improper or no nutrition or ingredient listings, as well as suspicious and possibly illegal food-handling practices.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for verifying that the food industry obeys the rules, including the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. It inspects retailers and does label reviews and product testing. So we spoke with the CFIA and asked if there is any difference in the inspection standards for ethnic supermarkets versus traditional Canadian grocers.
They were adamant that there is no difference. Food labelling regulations apply equally to both domestic and imported products, “and promote fair market access to all.” When a labelling issue is identified, the agency says it takes appropriate action, which may range from a warning letter to prosecution.
In addition, however, the agency says that “consumers and industry are encouraged to notify the CFIA if they believe any food manufacturer, retailer or individual product does not meet the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations, as well as the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and any other applicable legislation that falls under the CFIA’s responsibility.
“When non-compliance is identified or we receive a complaint, the CFIA works with the producer/distributor/ importer to have the problem corrected in a reasonable period of time. If the labelling infraction can compromise the health of consumers–such as when an allergen is not listed in the list of ingredients–the agency does not hesitate to take action, which may include products being pulled from store shelves.” Apparently, products labeled in Chinese can be sold providing an English (and possibly French) label is also placed somewhere on the package.
The regulations do not appear to be as cut and dried as perhaps Canadian grocers would like, and the CFIA seems to be aware of that fact. They have proposed a new set of regulations for imported foods that have not yet become law, but should be in effect within the year.
Under the proposal, foods and food ingredients regulated under the Food and Drugs Act that are imported would fall under the Canada Agricultural Products Act and would be called the Imported Food Sector. The new regulations would require importers of products in this sector to be licensed with the CFIA. That means any manufacturer, broker, agent, retailer or individual who imports product would need to be licensed.
In order to be licensed, importers would have to develop, implement and maintain a written Preventive Food Safety Control System outlining the measures taken to ensure food is compliant and safe. The importer would have to maintain records at an address in Canada, have a written recall plan and notify the CFIA within 24 hours if they learn the product poses a risk to the public.
The new regulation may or may not help prevent any further confusion over labelling and packaging. But it’s clear from what CFIA says that a complaint launched with them is the best and fastest way to get action over any perceived non-compliance.
As for food safety violations at store level, they fall under the jurisdiction of your local health inspection service. Again, a formal complaint is likely the best way to get action. So, if you see a problem, complain, complain.