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Food Recall Fact Sheet

What is a food recall?

A food recall is an action by a manufacturer, importer, distributor or retailer to remove unsafe food products from the market to help protect the public. In Canada, food recalls are coordinated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CFIA manages about 350 food recalls each year. In cases where the product poses a serious health risk, the CFIA issues a public warning to advise consumers.

Why are products recalled?

Food products can be recalled for many reasons, including the presence of :

  • pathogens (listeria, salmonella),
  • chemical contaminants,
  • undeclared allergens,
  • extraneous matter (glass, shell fragments),
  • non-permitted food ingredients.

How are recalls classified?

The CFIA classifies recalls based on the level of health risk of the food product being recalled. The level of risk also determines when, how and how many effectiveness checks will be conducted by the CFIA to ensure the products are removed from the market.

Class I recalls (High risk): The CFIA will request a Class I recall for a food product when there is a high risk that eating or drinking that product will lead to serious health problems or death. The CFIA issues a public warning for all Class I recall when the product is available for sale or could be in the consumer’s home. (See official definition)

Class II recalls (Moderate risk): The CFIA will requests a Class II recall for a food product when eating or drinking that product will most likely lead to short-term or non-life threatening health problems. The chance of any serious health symptoms is low in healthy populations.

The CFIA issues a public warning for some Class II recalls based on the risk assessment and other criteria, such as the severity of symptoms in vulnerable populations (children, pregnant women, seniors, etc.) (See official definition)

Class III recalls (Low and no risk): The CFIA will request a Class III recall when eating or drinking that product will not likely result in any undesirable health effects. Class III recalls can include food products that pose no health and safety risk, but do not follow federal food regulations. (See official definition)

Who starts a recall?

Most recalls in Canada are voluntary, which means that the recalls are initiated and carried out by the manufacturer, importer, distributor or retailer responsible. The CFIA works with the firm to ensure the effectiveness of the recall. However, in the event that a company is unable, or refuses, to voluntarily recall a product, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has the power to order a mandatory recall for products that pose a health risk.

All recalls are updated to the Food Recall Report on the CFIA website.