Perhaps poutine is your thing, that ubiquitous Canadian fast food dish featuring French fries and cheese curds topped with light brown gravy. Maybe you take to tacos, tamales, and enchiladas, those iconic staples of Mexican cuisine. You could have an affinity for the all-American favorites, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and mom’s apple pie à la mode.
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Your personal preferences aside, these culinary delights are all popular mainstays in three wildly different countries that share three undeniable commonalities. They are friendly neighbors, they are important food trade partners, and they are devoted to food safety.
O Canada / Ô Canada
The Canadian food safety system is a mature one, where the shared responsibility paradigm between industry, consumers and government oversight is well illustrated, says Samuel Godefroy, PhD, professor of food risk analysis and regulatory systems with University Laval’s Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences in Québec, Canada and formerly (2009 to 2015) director general of Health Canada’s Food Directorate, Canada’s federal food standard setting body.
Dr. Godefroy is quick to mention a consumer survey conducted in 2010, where a representative sample of Canadians indicated that witnessing a higher number of recalls (during 2009 and 2010) for them was more conducive to having a higher level of trust in the country’s food safety system rather than the opposite.
“This demonstrates that the Canadian food system was, in fact, working,” Dr. Godefroy asserts. “When consumers achieve this level of understanding with such an overwhelming majority, it is telling as to the level of maturity achieved.”
Without question, Canada, population 35,749,600, is a world powerhouse, not just in ice hockey, but where a food safety system should be expected to thrive. With its 10 provinces and three territories extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, the land of the maple leaf covers 3.85 million square miles, making it the world’s second-largest country by total area (after Russia) and the fourth-largest country by land area, not to mention the largest country in North America. Canada’s common border with the U.S. forms the world’s longest land border.
Dr. Godefroy says several factors contribute to the trustworthiness of the food safety system north of the U.S. border.
“For starters, Canada’s food safety system has been under regular review with the purpose of updating it and strengthening it,” he begins. “The recent food safety events either at the international level, especially the 2008 melamine contamination issues related to dairy products and other food fraud scandals in various parts of the world; or at the domestic level, XL Foods’ 2012 massive beef recalls and the 2008 listeriosis outbreak, are still in the memory of Canadian consumers, producers, and regulators alike. As a result, there has been more emphasis on enhancing the food safety system in the country through major government investments, but also through added emphasis by the food industry itself to instill and maintain a food safety culture.”
Another illustration, Dr. Godefroy says, is a 2014 assessment conducted by University of Guelph researchers, led by Sylvain Charlebois, PhD, who identified Canada’s food safety system in the top ranking of food safety systems globally, based on a robust standard setting environment and on a risk-based approach.
“Moreover, Canada’s food regulatory agencies have been subjected to a number of reviews and audits, the latest of which was a 2013 Auditor General report that reviewed the country’s food recall systems,” Dr. Godefroy continues. “As a result of these reviews and audits, a number of actions have been undertaken to modernize the system and address shortcomings. This constant review and update process is considered one of the strengths of the system.”