Canada’s meat inspection system has shown deficiencies following an audit by the United States.
As trading partners, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency conduct regular audits of each other’s processing plants to assess equivalency in standards.
The FSIS had concerns about carcass inspection and sanitation following an audit last fall of meat, poultry, and egg facilities.
Auditors reviewed seven slaughter and processing establishments (two swine, two bovine, two poultry, one bovine/caprine), four processing-only establishments, one egg processing facility, one cold storage facility and two laboratories.
An egg plant in Abbotsford, B.C. and a Calgary cold storage facility had no problems, but issues were found at slaughter and further processing facilities.
The FSIS report said government inspectors were not conducting complete carcass-by-carcass post-mortem inspections to ensure there was no contamination from feces, milk or stomach contents for reconditioned carcasses before applying inpection marks.
Other problems included sanitation where there was too much condensation inside plants, pools of water and some maintenance requirements on the structure of some plants.
“Most of the SPS findings (building and equipment maintenance findings) were already identified by the local CFIA inspectors prior to the FSIS audit,” said the report.
Rob McNabb of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said the plants have standard operating procedures to prevent contamination.
“We are talking about plants that are global and operate in Canada and the United States and other countries as well. Most of those companies have a pretty standard set of operating procedures. They are all based on a HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) approach because that was adopted years ago,” he said.
He also said carcass sanitization processes used in Canadian plants would remove potential contamination such as feces or invisible microbes.
“I have a lot of confidence that our packers have the technology to sanitize carcasses long before they even get to the break down, never mind to consumers. Things like the acid washes, hot washes and steam cabinets are the critical control points and are much more effective than someone being able to eyeball them,” he said.
Many issues cited in the FSIS report could be resolved if more inspectors were on site but government cuts have reduced their numbers, said Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union at the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
“When you look at the FSIS report, on their audit every single deficiency they cited was resource related. They simply didn’t have enough people to have those tasks completed,” he said in an interview.
The union released a survey to inspection staff on Aug. 8 in which many indicated concerns about how work is done and what may be coming in the future when new food safety regulations are released.
The CFIA, meanwhile, has said it plans changes to ensure there is adequate inspection and to ensure that employees will not have to work outside their areas of expertise.
In a statement, the agency said Canada regularly audits and is audited by its trading partners such as the U.S.
Canada last audited the U.S. in early 2017, it added, and is finalizing its draft report.
It said the draft report will shortly be sent to the FSIS for their comments and corrective actions.
- A third of meat inspectors reported there are always sufficient staff in their immediate work group to make up a meaningful daily presence in meat plants, while two-thirds said there is not enough staff for mandatory oversight requirements or to complete all tasks to ensure compliance with food safety requirements.
- Half of those who took the survey believe Canadians have been exposed to a greater risk of food-borne illnesses because of staff shortages. Three-quarters believe a major food-borne illness outbreak in Canada is very or somewhat likely.
- Staff also raised issues of having to work in areas where they did not always feel qualified under the new inspection system and many said inspection modernization may not be adequate.
The survey was conducted online from May 15 to June 16, with 488 out of 2,085 members of the Agriculture Union responding.
The response rate for the survey is 23 percent. The margin of error is 4.5 percent, 19 times out of 20.
The Agriculture Union, which commissioned the survey, represents more than 6,000 federal government workers including most of the food safety staff at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
- Between Jan. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2015, Canada exported 4.809 billion pounds of meat and poultry products to the U.S., of which 200 million lb. were inspected again at points of entry to the U.S. Of that re-inspected product, 1.6 million lb. were rejected because of various health reasons, including the presence of fecal matter, ingesta, extraneous material or failed analytical tests for correct species and pathology.
- More than 19 million lb. of egg products were inspected again at U.S. border crossings and 60 lb. were rejected for reasons other than food safety and returned to Canada.