Consider where you get your food. When you buy an apple from a grocery store, first you run it under water before taking a bite. At a restaurant, a chef cooks chicken to the perfect temperature before serving it to guests. Whether it comes from the grocery store down the block or is served at a fancy restaurant, we take these steps to make sure our food is safe.
But as consumers, we only see the last stage of the food value chain. Our food has already been through value adding processes—starting from producers, to processors, and finally to distributors. Along the way, it goes through numerous checks and balances to ensure that it is safe for consumption.
This is where the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) comes into play. Before our food even hits our plates, they are present at every stage of the food value chain to safeguard our food.
As an operations specialist, Kathleen MacDonald supports CFIA feed inspectors by helping them navigate through the intricacies of various programs, policies, and regulations that specialize in livestock feed.
“Our food's food is very important as well,” says MacDonald.
Essentially, everything that an animal eats, we eat too. Whatever goes into livestock feeds can eventually end up in our meat or animal by-products, such as milk or eggs.
Take for example a medicated feed—when a farmer needs to administer medications to a large number of animals, it is often done by mixing medication directly into their feed. This needs to be done either in accordance to the CFIA’s Compendium of Medicating Ingredient Brochures or the veterinarian’s prescription.
With livestock medication, the CFIA Feed Inspection team ensures that medicated feeds are given the proper dosage and labelled accordingly at the feed mills. Additionally, during on-farm inspections, the CFIA double checks that the medication is fully withdrawn from the livestock before it is slaughtered or produces any animal by-products for market.
“That way there's no carry over of those medications into the eggs, into any of the meat, or into any dairy,” says MacDonald.
If traces of medication are still present, this may lead to the formation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in livestock, which can transfer to our food through contaminated crops or mishandled meat products.
Aside from residual medications, the CFIA also looks out for potential environmental contaminants, such as mycotoxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and furans, which can have adverse health effects.
Through random sampling of different food groups, the CFIA look for unwanted residuals that could compromise the safety of the food value chain. In cases where a contaminant is found, the CFIA will follow up with a “traceback.”
“Within the commercial feed mills, we have to have traceability on all of their feeds,” says MacDonald.
Traceability is key to maintaining food safety. Under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), food businesses are required to track where their food came from and where it is going, along with the dates that they were transported. This can minimize or even prevent exposure to unsafe food products.
“If we find that contamination has occurred at any point . . . they can identify where that feed product was sent, who it was sent to, and they can recall it from the producers they sent it to.”
From there, the CFIA feed inspectors visit livestock production sites to ensure that each producer is following correct protocol every step of the way.
“We’re there at each point of the food value chain to ensure that industry is complying with the regulations, and we have a safe food product hitting the market that we're bringing home to feed our family,” says MacDonald.
Overall, food safety relies on cooperation from everyone, including consumers.
“From the producer that's feeding their livestock, all the way to the end user cooking their food, it can break down at any point [and] we're all responsible for it,” says MacDonald.
At each step of the food value chain, there are always risks of contamination. But with the collective responsibility of all parties involved, we can assure that the integrity of the process is intact and the food is safe to eat.
“We work very hard to ensure that Canada's interests when it comes to agriculture inputs, plant health, animal health, and food safety are looked after very well,” says MacDonald.
For more information on the food value chain explore our Nourishing Minds publications here.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency—RG-7 Regulatory Guidance: Prudent Use of Veterinary Drugs in Livestock Feeds, 2012
Canadian Food Inspection Agency—Compendium of Medicating Ingredient Brochures, 2019
Canadian Food Inspection Agency—RG-8 Regulatory Guidance: Contaminants in Feeds, 2017
Canadian Food Inspection Agency—Fact Sheet: Traceability Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, 2020