As Canadians continue to self-isolate and eat more meals at home, demands on Canada’s grocery stores and food manufacturers have dramatically increased. In the last two weeks of March alone, order volumes on food manufacturers surged by as much as 500%, with 80% of food manufacturers surveyed by Food & Consumer Products of Canada reporting increased production.
Canadian grocery stores employ what is often called a “just-in-time food system,” where they receive food shipments immediately before such food is ready to be put on the shelves. Although this typically prevents the need for unnecessary storage space and waste (due the expiry of unpurchased items), it has presented challenges in the current COVID-19 situation.
Due to the impact of COVID-19 on current food supply, on April 6 and 7 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) advised that it will be delaying and/or suspending a number of its low-risk compliance enforcement activities in an effort to “support the economy, alleviate supply disruptions in Canadian grocery stores, and avoid food waste.”
All CFIA notices may be viewed at https://www.inspection.gc.ca/covid-19/cfia-information-for-industry/eng/1584462704366/1584462704709#a1
Safe Food for Canadians Regulation Requirements suspended for the manufactured food sector
The Safe Food for Canadians Regulation (SFCR) came into force on January 15, 2019, and introduced three fundamental new requirements upon those in the food industry:
- Licensing (Part 3): Licences are required for those importing, exporting, manufacturing, processing, treating, preserving, grading, packaging, or labelling foods to be exported or sent across provincial or territorial borders;
- Preventative Controls (Part 4): This part of the SFCR describes the key food safety control principles that must be met by all food businesses, and outlines the requirements for developing, implementing and maintaining a written preventative control plan (often called a PCP) documenting how a food business meets its food safety, humane treatment of food animals, and consumer protection requirements;
- Traceability (Part 5): This part of the SFCR requires that food be traced forward to the businesses’ immediate customer and backward to the immediate supplier.
Those in the manufactured food sector were granted an 18-month transition period to comply with these requirements (i.e., to July 15, 2020). At a high level, the manufactured food sector includes confectionary, snack foods, beverages (including alcoholic beverages), oils, dried herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, coffee and tea, baked goods, cereals, and pastas.
Effective April 7, the CFIA has advised it will not prioritize compliance with the SFCR by the manufacturing food industry. While no new deadline has been established, the CFIA advises it will “provide adequate lead time” if its position changes on this issue.
The result of this policy is significant in preventing delays in the food supply chain in two important ways:
- Importers of manufactured food will generally not encounter delays or disruptions in their imports as a result of not having a licence by July 15, 2020; and
- Domestic manufacturers may continue to operate while they apply for and obtain their licence.
Despite easing the date of compliance, those in the manufactured food sector must still ensure the safety of their food products at all times. The CFIA will continue to take steps to protect consumers, including recalling, seizing, or detaining food products.
Temporary suspension of certain labelling requirements for foodservice products
Effective April 6, the CFIA has temporarily suspended certain labelling and sizing requirements for foodservice products that have no impact on food safety. Foodservice products include those food products intended for use in hotels, restaurants, and institutions.
As a general rule, foodservice products are not subject to the same labelling requirements as prepackaged food sold to consumers. For example, prepackaged foods made, packaged or labelled for use in commercial or industrial enterprises or institutions, are exempt from various SFCR labelling requirements.Further, most foods sold in restaurants and food service establishments are not considered prepackaged, and are not required to have a nutrition facts table.
Due to the pandemic, foodservice products have been “stuck,” and in danger of going to waste during a time when those products could be put to very good use. Demand for foodservice products has been significantly curtailed as restaurants restrict their services to pick-up or delivery only (or close altogether). At the same time, it has been difficult to repurpose these products for sale to retailers such as grocery stores, or potentially restaurant made “meals-to-go,” due to non-compliance with Canada’s labelling requirements.
The suspensions implemented by the CFIA have removed many of these roadblocks, enabling the retail sale of foodservice products if the following core labelling requirements are met:
- They meet Canadian food safety requirements;
- They are not labelled in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive;
- The label includes the following specific information:
o a common name;
o a list of ingredients and an allergen declaration, if applicable;
o a name and contact information for the person responsible for the food;
o a net quantity (in metric or imperial units);
o a lot code identifier (such as, date of production, best-before date, lot number);
o storage instructions and best-before date, if applicable;
o directions for use, if applicable (such as, safe cooking instructions); and
o food safety statements for meat or fish, if applicable (for example, previously frozen, mechanically tenderized meat).
Where any of this labelling information is missing from the label of a foodservice package, it may accompany the food packaging in any format and by any means (such as a sticker), so long as that information is available to the ultimate consumer or purchaser. Further, while it is strongly recommended the labelling information be in both English and French, having the label in only one of these languages is sufficient if this information is otherwise available to be reviewed upon request.
Notably, the labelling required by the CFIA does not include a nutrition facts table, nor is there any requirement to comply with the standard container sizes set out in the SFCR. Both of these requirements would potentially be complicated and costly steps for small businesses or restaurants to satisfy in attempting to repurpose their food product inventories during the pandemic.
In addition, CFIA has advised it will not object to the re-importation of food products made, packaged and labelled in Canada for foodservice use that are labelled according to U.S. requirements. Those products may be sold in Canada without any changes to the label if:
- The food products meet Canadian food safety requirements;
- The product is not labelled in a manner that is false, misleading, or deceptive; and
- The product is accompanied with proof of Canadian export certification.
All of the above are important steps in getting foodservice products into the consumer food supply without the cost and complications of meeting all of Canada’s labelling requirements. However, if a business intends to manufacture, process, treat or preserve foodservice products (such as by freezing, drying, smoking, slicing, etc.) , for the purpose of export or interprovincial trade, those activities are subject to SFCR licensing requirements, and must be carried out in a licensed federal establishment.
All of the above applies to foodservice foods that were:
- Already packaged as of April 6, 2020, or
- Packaged and labelled within 90 days of April 6, 2020.
These suspensions will cease 90 days after April 6, 2020, and all labelling requirements for retail food will again apply.