TORONTO – According to a recent Conference Board of Canada report presented at the Canadian Food Summit, the majority of foodborne illnesses in Canada occur during the final stages of food preparation and handling.

"Canada's food safety system generally does a good job at protecting the health of Canadians, but improvement is needed," said Daniel Munro, Principal Research Associate. "It is commonly assumed that farms and food processing companies hold the most responsibility for ensuring safe food, and their role is critical. But most foodborne illnesses are associated with the preparation and storage practices of restaurants, food service operations, and consumers themselves."

The report, Improving Food Safety in Canada: Toward a More Risk Responsive System, provides a foundation for dialogue on Canada's food safety system and coincides with the Canadian Food Summit 2012. Held Feb. 7 and 8 in Toronto, the Food Summit is part of the Centre for Food in Canada (CFIC), a multi-year Conference Board of Canada program of research and dialogue. About 25 companies and organizations have invested in the project, which will culminate in 2013 with the development of a Canadian Food Strategy.

In its report, the Conference Board estimates that there are close to 6.8 million cases of foodborne illness annually in Canada. Most are mild and involve minor discomfort and inconvenience. It is rare for consumption of unsafe food to cause serious illness or death in Canada. In 2008, there were 40 such deaths.

Seventy to 80 percent of food poisoning illnesses are associated with mistakes in the final preparation and handling of food products. About half of all foodborne illnesses are acquired in restaurants and other food service establishments, while many of the remaining cases are linked to food that is stored and prepared in the home.

The Conference Board of Canada report, prepared by the Board's Centre for Food in Canada, identifies five potential areas for improvement:

• Providing small and medium restaurants and food service operators with management advice and information on how they can minimize food safety risks and take effective action in the case of outbreaks.
• Encouraging better behavior among consumers by building on current consumer awareness programs.
• Harmonizing private standards to protect the public interest.
• Making greater use of technology to improve visibility and traceability. Technologies, such as innovations in manufacturing processes, better machinery, food additives, and/or information technologies that assist in tracing the origins of ingredients or products, can help improve food safety.
• Adding resources to address the potential increase in risks from international food sources. 

Click here for more information on the report.