Tuesday, January 7, 2014

U.S. downgrades Canadian inspection

The United States has down-graded Canada’s food inspection system to third-rate status.

It means Canadian food exports will face closer scrutiny.

It also undermines the credibility of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and senior officials of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency who repeatedly insisted that ours is one of the best food-safety food industries in the world.

Late last year, the CFIA's food safety operations were moved to Health Canada.

The U.S. down-grading came after the first U.S. audit of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency since 2009.

This audit involved visits to Canadian Food Inspection Agency offices in Ottawa and other parts of Canada, to the XL Foods Inc. beef-slaughtering plant at Brooks, Alberta, and the Britco Pork slaughtering plant at Langley, B.C., to Aliments Prince bacon-processing plant at Cornwall, Ont., Les Produits Alimentaires de Viau Inc. ham-processing plant at Laval, Que., Santa Maria Foods of Toronto, Maple Leaf Foods Inc. meat-processing plant in Winnipeg and Vanderpol Egg Ltd. at Abbotsford, B.C.

The U.S. inspectors also visited Maxxam Analytics Ltd. of Mississauga and Silliker JR Labs of Burnaby, B.C., which test samples submitted by the CFIA and/or food-processing companies.

Despite the deficiencies the Americans identified and which Canadians confirmed, Tom Graham, the CFIA official in charge of domestic food inspection, told the Globe and Mail that “overall, the audit findings were very good.”

Probably most disconcerting was the audit at XL Foods Inc. which was shut down in 2010 because beef contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 was put on the market and resulted in more than a dozen cases of food poisoning. The biggest recall in Canadian history ensued.

Despite assurances that the CFIA had become more vigilant and the plant was under new ownership and dedicated to food safety, the auditors identified problems ranging from a table saw that had not been adequately cleaned between shifts, plastic bins for carrying meat that were so poorly cleaned that they still had meat and fat inside and inability to provide records to verify that equipment was adequately taken apart, cleaned and disinfected and re-assembled before the next shift started processing.

Equipment break-down for cleaning and disinfection became a requirement after a massive outbreak of Listeria food poisoning from a Maple Leaf Foods Inc. plant in Toronto. That was traced to Listeria inside meat-slicing equipment.

The U.S. inspectors were critical of Vanderpol’s egg-processing plant because it could not furnish records to prove it had complied with previous findings of deficiencies.

There was rust on a saw at Santa Maria Foods.

The U.S. audits were conducted between Oct. 22 and Nov. 9, 2012, and Canadian inspectors were part of the group that visited meat-processing facilities and have been fully aware of the findings.

It took from then until September, 2013, for the CFIA to respond to the U.S. request for Canada’s policy to deal with Shiga-toxin-producing bacteria, such as E. coli 0157:H7 and the U.S. is still waiting for the CFIA to respond to its concerns about protocols to address concerns about salmonella in ready-to-eat products.

I twice filed under the U.S. Freedom-of-Information law to obtain a copy of the U.S. report on Canada, but so far have been given nothing. 

The Globe and Mail found the report posted on the U.S.D.A. website.