CIFS Guide to

Food Safety Requirements in Canada

It is important to be aware of both federal and provincial laws and how they apply to your business and employees. Following food safety regulations isn't just a best practice — it's the law.
CIFS Guide to Food Safety Requirements in Canada

This guide was designed to provide food businesses with the information they need to comply with food safety laws and regulations. As a food business owner or manager, you need to be aware of both federal and provincial laws and how they apply to you and your Food Handlers. Not following Canada’s food safety laws can have serious consequences for you and your business.

In This Resource


Introduction

chefs preparing food in a restaurant

THE IMPORTANCE OF FOOD SAFETY

Every year, roughly four million people (one in eight Canadians) get sick from contaminated food. Of these, over 11,500 people are hospitalized and more than 230 people die. The sad reality is that food businesses are behind many of the worst cases of food-borne illness outbreaks in Canada.

A food safety incident at your food business can have serious and far-reaching consequences. Even a small mistake in food handling can affect hundreds of customers; sometimes, it can cause irreversible damage to your customers and to your business.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

Food poisoning

With food poisoning horror stories making front page news and exploding across social media, customers are more aware than ever about proper food safety techniques. It is easy for a customer to spot improper waste disposal, rodent droppings or staff with poor hygiene. If your food business causes even one customer to fall ill, let alone an outbreak, your reputation can suffer serious damage and may never recover.

Allergic reactions

Food businesses in Canada are also accountable for knowing the presence of allergens in the foods they prepare and sell. The effect of an allergen on a person who suffers from allergies can lead to serious health consequences, including death. Ignorance is not an excuse, nor a defence.

WHAT ARE THE COSTS?

Business closure & fines

Significant violations can quickly result in thousands of dollars’ worth of fines or even the closure of your food business.

Reputation damage

Risks to your reputation from improper food handling or food-borne illness are manifold:

  • Your online reputation can be damaged by customers who post reviews or images of improper food handling in your business.
  • Your brand could suffer as a result of negative word-of-mouth from customers who suspect your food business gave them food poisoning.
  • Your business can be listed on government websites as a health risk to the public.
  • Your business may be required to display the results of an inspection at the entrance of your business; a poor food safety rating will quickly scare away customers.

Your customers’ trust is hard to earn, but easy to lose. Losing their trust means fewer customers and lost revenue.

Legal and financial liability

For serious breaches of legislation, the authorities may hold you liable for damages or even prosecute you and/or your employees.

CASE STUDY

Many Canadians will remember the devastating listeriosis outbreak of 2008, linked to cold cuts from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto, Ontario. Deli meat, believed to have been contaminated during packaging, caused more than 50 people to get sick and claimed 22 lives. The cost to the company of recalling the affected products was estimated to be 20 million (CBC, August 25, 2008); court fees and legal settlements amounted to more than $27 million (CBC, December 18, 2008).

The good news is that it can be quite simple to comply with food safety laws and prevent food safety risks in your business. By enforcing food safety rules within your establishment, training your staff and monitoring food handling activities closely, you can protect your customers, your business and yourself.

In this guide, we will consider some of the ways in which you can enforce food safety, and also take a look at some of the food safety laws you need to follow.


Understanding Food Safety Laws

woman standing next to a closed sign

Complying with food safety regulations isn’t just a helpful way to protect your business and your customers — it’s the law. Not following Canada’s food safety laws can have serious consequences for you and your business.

In Canada, food safety is governed at the federal and provincial levels. As a food business owner or manager, you need to be aware of both federal and provincial laws and how they apply to you and your Food Handlers.

FEDERAL LAWS

Health Canada is responsible for establishing policies and setting food safety standards for food businesses. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for enforcing these policies and standards. The following are federal acts and regulations related to food safety in Canada:

Food and Drug Act
This act attempts to ensure that the production, import, export and transport across provinces and sale of food, drugs and cosmetics are safe, that their ingredients are disclosed and that drugs are effective.

Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act
This act requires that prepackaged consumer products bear accurate and meaningful labelled information to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions.

Canada Agricultural Products Act
This act regulates the marketing of agricultural products in import, export and interprovincial trade and provides national standards and grades of agricultural products.

Safe Food for Canadians Act
This act consolidates the authorities of the Fish Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Products Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.

PROVINCIAL LAWS

Food safety laws and requirements differ across Canada’s provinces and territories — in some cases, even between municipalities in the same province. In most provinces, government-approved Food Handler Certification is a legal requirement for many of your staff and it is recommended to certify every staff member who handles food in your business.

To help you understand legislation requirements in your province, we have provided some key information below. For more information, visit our Laws and Requirements page

ALBERTA
If there are six or more staff members (including wait staff) working on the premises, at least one manager or supervisor on-duty must have an approved food safety certificate. If there are five or fewer, at least one employee must be certified, but they are not required to be present at all times.

BRITISH COLUMBIA
Food business operators must have completed a Food Handler Certificate course. If they are absent from the premises, at least one employee with the same certificate must be present.

MANITOBA
Food businesses in Manitoba are required to follow the food safety standards in the Manitoba Food and Food Handling Establishments Regulation, under the Public Health Act. There are additional requirements for the city of Winnipeg.

In the City of Winnipeg, food businesses have higher training requirements. The person in charge (e.g. manager or supervisor) must have a valid certificate. If there are more than five persons on duty, an individual with a certificate must be present and their certificate must be posted in the establishment.

NEW BRUNSWICK
Food premises must comply with section 39 of the New Brunswick Food Premises Regulation, which states that the manager of a Class 4 food premises must have a valid Food Handler Certificate and at least one person with a certificate must be present at all times. Find out what constitutes a Class 4 business, visit our New Brunswick Food Safety Laws and Requirements page.

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR
Food Handler Certification is a best practice for food businesses. It is recommended to certify anyone that handles food in your business.

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
Every food business operator must hold a valid Food Handler Certificate. When the operator is absent, at least one employee with a valid certificate must be on the premises. Upon inspection, the operator is required to produce Food Handler Certificate(s).

NOVA SCOTIA
Every food business operator must hold an approved food safety training certificate. When the operator is absent, at least one employee with a valid certificate must be on the premises. Additionally, any person in a food establishment that comes into contact with food must be trained in food safety to a level appropriate to the activity they perform. They must be able to provide confirmation of training to an Inspector.

NUNAVUT
Territorial laws require that food sold is safe and suitable for human consumption and meets all federal and provincial standards. Food Handler Certification is best practice for food businesses. It is recommended to certify anyone that handles food in your business.

ONTARIO
At least one person who has completed a Food Handler Certification course must be on the premises at all times during business operations.

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Every food business operator must have completed a Food Handler Certificate course. When the operator is absent, at least one employee with a valid certificate must be on the premises.

SASKATCHEWAN
At least one person who has completed a Food Handler Certificate course must be on the premises at all times during business operations, and the food business operator must ensure that all employees are adequately trained in food safety. Local authorities may require operators or additional employees to complete an approved food safety training course.

QUEBEC
Food operators must complete Food Establishment Manager training before applying for a business licence, and at least one employee — or 10% of the operator’s workforce— is required to have Food Handler training. The operator must have a record of training certificates for all current employees and past employees who have worked in the last 12 months.

YUKON TERRITORY
Territorial laws require that food sold is safe and suitable for human consumption and meets all federal and provincial standards. Food Handler Certification is best practice for food businesses. It is recommended to certify anyone that handles food in your business.


Food Safety in Your Business

woman conducting a health inspection

Improving food safety isn’t difficult. Paying attention to three main focus areas can make all the difference between causing a food-borne illness outbreak and keeping your customers safe. The three main areas are:

  1. Personal hygiene of Food Handlers
  2. Time and temperature control
  3. Cleaning and sanitizing

PERSONAL HYGIENE OF FOOD HANDLERS

Many food-borne illness outbreaks are caused by Food Handlers not following proper personal hygiene procedures. Customers are at risk of becoming seriously ill, or even dying, if Food Handlers work when they are ill, fail to wash their hands at appropriate times or don’t take precautions to prevent contaminating food with pathogens from their clothing or body.

All Food Handlers must be trained in personal hygiene and appropriate behaviour in the workplace in order to protect customers, themselves and the food business they work for.

Some of the things Food Handlers must be trained to do are:

  • wash their hands properly and frequently, for example, after using the bathroom, handling money, or working with potentially hazardous foods like meat, poultry or raw eggs
  • ensure their uniforms are laundered frequently and aren’t worn outside the workplace
  • not wear jewellery or use nail polish
  • wear hairnets or beard nets when preparing food
  • inform a manager on duty immediately if they are showing any signs of illness

Food Handler Certification is the easiest way to ensure that employees know what to do to prevent food safety risks in your food business, and to demonstrate the importance of following food safety best practices.

TIME AND TEMPERATURE CONTROL

Improper time and temperature control of food can lead to microorganisms multiplying to dangerous levels. By keeping food at low or high temperatures, we can stop or slow the growth of microorganisms, including dangerous pathogens that can cause food-borne illness.

Pathogens multiply most rapidly in the Temperature Danger Zone, which is between 4°C / 40°F and 60°C / 140°F. It is important to minimize the amount of time that potentially hazardous foods, such as poultry or dairy, spend at this temperature.

In general, it is best to follow the 2-hour rule, which states that high-risk foods must be discarded after they have been in the Temperature Danger Zone for more than 2 hours. This time is cumulative, meaning it is the total amount of time that food has spent in the Temperature Danger Zone.

For example:

Chicken is delivered to a restaurant. It takes 15 minutes to move it from the delivery van into cold storage. Next it is prepared for service, which takes 30 minutes. It is displayed at a buffet for an hour and thirty minutes. In this scenario, the chicken spent a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes in the Temperature Danger Zone. It should have been discarded after 2 hours. 

There are other rules that need to be followed, such as maintaining the correct temperature for cooking certain types of food, and for cooling, reheating and thawing.

Ensure that anyone who works with food in your business is fully trained in the correct procedures for time and temperature control for the types of food that you prepare. We cover this in detail in the CIFS Food Handler Certification Course.

CLEANING AND SANITIZING

Regular cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces, equipment and utensils is essential for ensuring food safety within your organization.

A common mistake made by food businesses is to clean but not sanitize. Cleaning removes surface dirt and soiling, but soaps and detergents don’t always kill pathogens. This is why using a commercial grade sanitizer is important, but be careful — in some cases, not rinsing off sanitizer properly can cause chemical contamination of food and a whole new set of problems.

As a general rule, everything that has had direct contact with food needs to be cleaned and sanitized after every use. Remember to clean and sanitize:

  • when changing from working with one type of food to another, especially when switching from working with raw foods to working with prepared food
  • before commencing work again after your work has been interrupted for any reason
  • at least once every four hours if items are in constant use
  • before using a food preparation item that is used infrequently

Always train staff in the correct procedures for cleaning and sanitizing in your business, as well as how to use specific products. It is also a good idea to use checklists and sign-off sheets in food preparation areas to verify that cleaning and sanitizing is being performed at appropriate times.

FOOD SAFETY INSPECTIONS

Together, the federal, provincial and municipal governments monitor food safety across Canada. They are responsible for the policies, legislation, regulations and inspections that protect the quality and safety of food.

Health Inspectors play an important role in monitoring food safety. They have the authority to:

  • enter a food business property at any time and without permission
  • request evidence that the correct food safety training has been performed
  • go into any area of a food business
  • take samples
  • issue infringement notices and fines
  • close the business immediately if it is deemed to be a serious public health risk

It is common for Inspectors to visit your business before its opening and then every four to six months afterwards. As part of the inspection, Inspectors will request to see Food Handler Certification documents and your Food Safety Plan.

Your business may receive additional inspections if:

  • your business receives infractions for non-compliance
  • a customer complains about your business
  • a food recall impacting your business arises
  • your food business prepares hazardous foods or foods requiring many preparation steps

The results of your inspection will be made available to the public.

FOOD HANDLER CERTIFICATION

Food Handler Certification is a legal requirement and best practice for food businesses. It is recommended to certify anyone that handles food in your business. Having your workforce complete a Food Handler Certification course helps you meet food safety legal requirements.

Don’t forget that Food Handlers aren’t just the people in your business that prepare food. Food Handlers include employees who:

  • serve food to customers
  • move food into storage
  • deliver food
  • clean equipment and utensils

Simply put, anyone that comes into contact with food or food equipment in a food business is a Food Handler. It is your responsibility to ensure that all Food Handlers understand food safety and food hygiene. If you don’t, you could be breaking the law.

But it is not just about compliance. Food safety also makes good business sense. By investing in training and education, you are investing in the success and long-term health of your brand.

By investing in food safety training, you can:

  • protect your customers
  • protect your reputation
  • pass health inspections and avoid fines
  • minimize food complaints
  • reduce operating costs resulting from improper food handling, such as food waste or pest removal

It takes just one Food Handler doing the wrong thing to cause hundreds of customers to fall ill. Prevention is your best defence.


Food Safety Plans

man wiping down a surface in a restaurant

WHAT IS A FOOD SAFETY PLAN?

A Food Safety Plan is a set of written documents detailing how a food business ensures that food produced or sold is safe for human consumption.

Food Safety Plans help food businesses to identify what food safety risks exist in their business and the actions to be taken if any hazards reach a level that could cause food-borne illness or other food safety risks.

Food Safety Plans should be based on HACCP Principles. ‘HACCP’ stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, and is a system designed in the 1960s by NASA to ensure food is safe for their astronauts.

HACCP is now used worldwide as a means of controlling food safety across all types of food businesses. HACCP and Food Safety Plans are covered in detail in our nationally recognized Food Handler Certification Course.

THE 7 PRINCIPLES OF HACCP

The seven principles of HACCP are:

Principle 1: Conduct a Hazard Analysis
This principle involves identifying potential hazards that could occur within your food business. Examples of potential hazards include pests, improper delivery temperature, expired products or damaged packaging.

Principle 2: Identify Critical Control Points
Critical Control Points (CCPs) are the steps in the process where hazards can be reduced, eliminated or prevented. Examples include the sign-off step when receiving deliveries or checking the temperature of food before serving.

Principle 3: Establish Critical Limits
A Critical Limit is the minimum or maximum acceptable level for a hazard at that step. Critical Limits must always be measurable or have a clear yes or no answer.

Principle 4: Monitor Critical Control Points
Monitoring is essential to ensure that each process is within the Critical Limits at each CCP. Monitoring means performing an action to check that the food is safe.

Principle 5: Establish Corrective Actions
This is the action that must be taken if a Critical Limit is exceeded. Corrective actions may be immediate (stopping a breach that is occuring now) or preventative (stopping a breach from occuring in the future).

Principle 6: Establish Record Keeping
The sixth HACCP principle refers to keeping records and logs of checks that have been performed, as well as details of any corrective actions that have been taken.

Principle 7: Establish Verification Procedures
The final HACCP principle is to perform regular reviews to verify that the Food Safety Plan is working as expected.

FOOD SAFETY TRAINING

As a best practice, everyone on your staff should be trained on safe food handling policies and procedures. This includes your serving staff, dish washers and kitchen hands as they are just as likely to come into contact with food as chefs and cooks.

In most provinces, provincial laws require food businesses to employ staff that have obtained Food Handler Certification, though the number of employees required to have completed formal training varies by province. In Ontario, for example, food business operators must have at least one employee on their premises during all hours of operation who has completed Food Handler Certification training.


About the Canadian Institute of Food Safety

At CIFS, our mission is to reduce food-borne illness in Canada through education, promotion and advocacy for better food safety. To improve food safety in Canada, we want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to do the right thing. We strive to protect both business owners and consumers from the consequences of food-borne illness.

We work with the public, as well as small, medium and enterprise food businesses in every industry that is regulated by the Canadian Government.

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