Canada moves to strengthen its food safety systems

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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OTTAWA, Ontario – On Dec. 19, a final report was released detailing the action taken by the Government of Canada in recent years in response to recommendations made by Sheila Weatherill that are outlined in the Report of the Independent Investigator into the 2008 Listeriosis Outbreak.

This widespread outbreak of listeriosis in Canada was linked to cold cuts from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto, Ontario. Twenty-two people died and there were 57 total confirmed cases, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

As a result of the outbreak, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Weatherill to conduct an independent investigation and to make recommendations to strengthen the Canadian food-safety system. The Canadian government's ongoing efforts to reduce food-safety risks, enhance surveillance and early detection of foodborne pathogens and illnesses plus improve emergency response is outlined in the study, titled Action on Weatherill Report Recommendations to Strengthen the Food Safety System: Final Report to Canadians.

Since then, significant investments have been made by Canada’s government to improve its food-safety system. A $75 million (US$72.4 million) investment was provided in 2009 to improve Canada's ability to prevent, detect and respond to future foodborne illness outbreaks. And its budget in 2010 allotted an additional $13 million (US$12.5 million) annually for two years to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to fund increased inspection capacity for meat and poultry processing facilities. Budget 2011 provided another $100 million (US$96.5 million) over five years to invest in inspector training, tools and technology plus science capacity.

These investments build on the government's 2008 commitment to invest $489.5 million (US$472.3 million) over five years in the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan.

The Government of Canada committed to act on all of Weatherill's recommendations in 2009. The final report highlights actions taken to strengthen the food-safety system, including:

  • Identifying and fast-tracking approving food-safety interventions, such as food additives that reduce the growth of Listeria monocytogenes and other pathogens.
  • Hiring 170 more full-time inspectors to increase CFIA's presence in federally registered meat-processing plants.
  • Developing new detection methods for Listeria and other hazards in food that reduce testing time and enable more rapid response during food-safety investigations.
  • Using innovative laboratory technologies in outbreak investigations and expanding the outbreak detection lab network to include public health and food safety partners across Canada.
  • Supporting national public health surveillance to improve collection, reporting and analysis of a wide range of health information.
  • Providing Canadians, including those most vulnerable, with the information needed to reduce the risk of a foodborne illness through a new online, food-safety portal and national public information campaigns.
  • Updating the Foodborne Illness Outbreak Response Protocol, which guides how all levels of government work together to respond to a national or international outbreak.
  • Ensuring that health risk assessment teams are available 24/7 to support food safety investigations.
  • Building surge capacity in order to respond more quickly and effectively to potential future foodborne illness outbreaks.
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