Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

The Consumers' Role in the Food Safety System

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) works with other government departments and agencies, as well as provincial and territorial partners, to keep Canada's food supply safe. In addition, consumers play an important role in the food safety system by reporting any adverse reactions to food products or other food safety concerns to the CFIA. The information you provide may help us remove unsafe products from the market and warn other consumers.

Once you file a complaint

When you first contact the CFIA with a food safety concern or complaint, whether by telephone (1-800-442-2342), web, email, fax, letter or in person, we will ask you to provide as many details as you can on the food in question, including the brand name, Universal Product Code (UPC), lot code, best before date, and date and place of purchase.

We use this information and other complaint details to help us determine whether a product poses a food safety risk and identify if any follow up action is necessary. In some cases, we can answer your questions or concerns immediately, however, other cases may require a food safety investigation.

If you think you have become ill due to the consumption of a food product, it is recommended that you consult your physician and inform the CFIA of your symptoms. If you still have a sample of the food, we may ask to obtain it. Depending on the suspected cause, the CFIA may contact the provincial or territorial partners to assist or follow up with the investigation.

Food safety investigations

After receiving a complaint about a food product, the CFIA begins a food safety investigation. Consumers' food complaints are just one of many triggers to start a food safety investigation. On average, the CFIA conducts 3,000 food safety investigations each year.

During these investigations we work hard to determine if a food safety hazard exists, and the source and extent of the problem. Food safety inspectors may contact the retailer, manufacturer and/or importer and use a wide range of investigation tools, including reviewing records, observing practices, analysing products, and contacting suppliers and equipment manufacturers.

If a potential food safety risk is determined, the CFIA conducts a risk assessment on the product based on either a Health Canada food safety standard or when no standard exists the CFIA requests that Health Canada to conduct a health risk assessment. Based on the assessment, the CFIA will determine if a food recall is necessary.

Food recalls

When recall action is required, the CFIA asks the manufacturer, importer, distributer or retailer to remove any affected product from the market. Depending on the risk assessment, the recall will be classified as a Class I, II or III.

The CFIA will request a Class I (high risk) 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)

The CFIA will requests a Class II (moderate risk) 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 consequences 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)

The CFIA will request a Class III (low or no risk) 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)

The CFIA monitors the effectiveness of the recall by conducting random checks at retailers known to have received the recalled product. In the event that a company is unable, or refuses, to voluntarily recall a product, the Minister of Agriculture has the power to order a mandatory recall for products that pose a health risk


Once the recall is complete, and all of the affected products have been removed from store shelves, the CFIA will continue to work with the manufacturer, retailer or importer to help ensure that problem is resolved. Once the investigation is complete, a food safety inspector will contact you to provide you with information.

While not all food concerns reported to the CFIA will result in a food safety investigation or products being removed from the marketplace, by contacting the CFIA with any of your food safety questions or concerns, you are helping to ensure that we keep Canada's food supply safe.