An audit from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has given the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) a grade of “adequate” in the wake of a review of its meat inspection system. That’s the lowest acceptable rating it could receive and still be permitted to import food to the U.S.
The audit report, issued in December, was based on tours of seven processing facilities, two labs, and five CFIA offices conducted in October and November of 2012. Among other problems, the auditors found non-compliance in HACCP implementation and non-compliance in sanitation performance standards. The auditors did note that for all non-compliances, “the CFIA took immediate corrective actions and instituted long-term protective measures…CFIA’s plan is clearly described with 30 actions that are already underway to develop and implement a sustainable internal inspection oversight role that allows continuous system improvement.”
Rick Holley, PhD, a professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Manitoba, who has been an outspoken critic of the CFIA, says that he actually found a fair amount to praise about the agency’s performance in the audit report.
“I think they’re doing a reasonably good job, based on what I’m seeing here. In the report, part of the reason for the ‘adequate’ rating were deficiencies in establishment 38 related to HACCP,” he notes. (Establishment 38 is XL Foods, the company linked to the largest beef recall in Canadian history in the fall of 2012 due to an E. coli outbreak.) “The HACCP deficiencies in the report were actually identified by the CFIA itself—in fact, copied verbatim from the CFIA report. That gives me the indication that the CFIA were being as transparent as they could possibly be in presenting the information to FSIS for audit purposes.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Holley calls the audit report “sobering.” “The fact that those deficiencies even existed in a plant in Canada indicates that all is not as well in this arena as the CFIA would like us to think it is,” he says. “Regulations for the Safe Foods for Canadians Act are currently being written, and I hope every effort will be made to ensure that the very fundamental things in this audit can be addressed in a way that will give the public confidence that CFIA’s inspection activity is being efficiently and consistently delivered.”