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The Canadian Food Safety System — Food Recall

Canada has a sound and internationally respected food safety system. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)'s food recall process is one part of that system.

At the federal level, Health Canada establishes policies and standards related to the safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada. The CFIA enforces those policies and standards.

Food manufacturers use many controls to protect the safety of the products they produce. On occasion, for many different reasons, a product may be manufactured and sold which may pose a health risk. When an unsafe food product has left the control of the manufacturer or importer it must be removed from the market. This process of removing the product is called a "recall". The food industry carries out most recalls voluntarily. The recalling firm is responsible for the implementation of the recall and verification of its effectiveness. However, if a company is not available or willing to conduct the recall voluntarily the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food can, under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, order a company to recall a product where the Minister believes that it poses a risk to public, animal or plant health.

The Recall Process


There are various triggers that initiate a food safety investigation which could lead to a food recall. These triggers can include: reports by public health officials, consumer complaints, company-initiated concerns, international reports as well as regular CFIA inspections and testing/sampling programs. For example, a company may conduct its own sampling and find a problem in its process and initiate a recall.

In rare circumstances, unsafe food is found because people become ill. In that case, a disease outbreak situation must first undergo an epidemiological investigation by provincial/territorial public health officials to determine if the cause is a food source. The epidemiological analysis includes the interviewing and laboratory testing of people who have become sick. If a food source is identified and available for testing, the CFIA will sample and test it.


The goal of a food safety investigation is to determine whether a food safety hazard or violation exists and to determine the nature and extent of the problem. An exhaustive traceback procedure from the retail level through distribution to production or processing facilities is conducted to pinpoint a suspected source of the problem. Investigations are conducted in a thorough, consistent and timely manner. Information obtained throughout provides the basis for the assessment of risk and the development of appropriate risk management strategies to control affected products.

Decision Making

Using a streamlined process, the CFIA and Health Canada work as quickly as possible to reach a decision about the risk posed by a product. The level of risk contributes to determining the class of food recall. There are three classes of food recalls:

Class I — represents a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the consumption/exposure to a food will lead to adverse health consequences which are serious or life-threatening, or that the probability of a foodborne outbreak situation is considered high.

Class II — represents a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the consumption/exposure to a food will lead to temporary or non-life threatening health consequences or that the probability of serious adverse consequences is considered remote.

Class III — represents a situation in where there is a reasonable probability that the consumption/exposure to a food is not likely to result in any adverse health consequences.


If it is determined that a situation warrants a Class I recall, a news release will be issued notifying the general public and media . The news release is also posted to the CFIA Web site and sent out to its subscriber e-mail list.

It is the responsibility of industry to remove the product from sale or distribution.


CFIA officials will conduct effectiveness checks to verify that the recalling firm has recalled the product effectively. On some occasions officials from provincial and territorial governments work with the CFIA to conduct effectiveness checks. If the recalling firm is unwilling to remove the product for sale and appropriately dispose of it, the CFIA may seize and detain the product. Further administrative actions including prosecution could also take place.

Canada enjoys a world reputation for a comprehensive and responsive food safety system, including its food recall system. The effectiveness of Canada's food recall system depends on everyone doing their part — industry producing safe product and removing product from sale or distribution when necessary; public health partners identifying patterns of illnesses and taking appropriate actions; and the CFIA carrying out investigations and recalls with Health Canada, provincial, territorial and industry partners, as needed.

For more information:

Canadian Food Inspection Agency: 1-800-442-2342
CFIA website: