Updated: Aug 5
Food safety is a responsibility for all
Consider where you get your food. When you buy an apple from a grocery store, first you run it under running 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 it 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 the stages food value chain—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 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.
“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 Kathleen MacDonald, operations specialist with CFIA.
As an operations specialist, MacDonald supports CFIA food inspectors by helping them navigate through the intricacies of various programs, policy, and regulations specializing 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 an animal, 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 animal medication, MacDonald and her team ensure that medicated feeds are given the proper dosage and labelled accordingly. Additionally, the CFIA double checks that the medication is fully withdrawn from the animals system before it is slaughtered or produces any animal by-products.
“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 leads 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, MacDonald and her team 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, CFIA food inspectors visit food production sites to ensure that each producer is following correct protocol at each 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. Everyone needs to do their part to maintain a safe food value chain, whether it’s safe medicated feedlots or simply cooking your chicken to the right temperature.
“From the producer, that's feeding his livestock all the way to the end user cooking their food. it can break down at any point where we're all responsible for it,” says MacDonald.
Ensuring Safety in the Food Value Chain is an article featured in our Nourishing Minds publication. For more Nourishing Minds, follow this link!