By Sam Lewis, associate editor
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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is currently updating regulations and updating its inspection model to keep pace with a constantly-changing, global environment. At the 13th Annual North American Summit On Food Safety, Nicole Bouchard-Steeves, executive director for the Operations Modernization Project Office with CFIA, shared her insights on how Canada is improving its food safety efforts with five different initiatives.
Risks to food, the approach to handling those risks, and the size of supply chains have dramatically changed in the last 10 years and will continue to change at a rapid speed. At the same time, the food industry has to become more efficient and more innovative to compete in a global economy. Consequently, advancements in technology and globalization have led to a rapidly-changing risk environment. Because of this, CFIA is in the midst of implementing several modernization food safety initiatives to keep up with the evolution of the food industry and its stance of prevention rather than reaction to food safety events.
First and foremost, CFIA’s mission is to safeguard the food supply and enhance the public’s health and wellbeing while supporting business and trade. In order to do that in a rapidly-evolving, global environment, adjustments to regulations and how those regulations are enforced must be made. “The Safe Food for Canadians Act is the first step CFIA has taken to modernize Canada’s approach to food safety,” says Bouchard-Steeves. “Some of Canada’s food safety regulations date back to the ‘40s and ‘50s; obviously they’re not able to keep up with today’s global environment and there’s a need for modernization.” The main approach to transforming the rules is for the rules to become progressively more preventative and outcome-based so the industry and CFIA both have flexibility to innovate and respond to emerging risks. This includes modernizing food labeling, developing new industry guidances, streamlining CFIA’s user fees and cost recovery schedule, and making the regulations more understandable and consistent across each sector of the industry.
An Integrated Risk Management Approach
Risk intelligence, risk management, and informed decision making have been the basis of CFIA operations in the past. However, when operating in the new global environment, science and technology are the tools to improved and more-informed foresight. “Using demonstrable risk intelligence, such as analytical tools and systems, allows CFIA to better allocate internal resources to ensure proper risks are targeted and the agency is operating efficiently,” says Bouchard-Steeves. “The agency’s goal is to continue using those analytics and resource management tools to redesign our programs and how inspections are conducted and verified.”
Consistent And Efficient Inspections
Agility, flexibility, and fast responses are the backbone of strong risk management. A consistent, more-efficient approach to inspections will allow CFIA to be more nimble and flexible to adjust to changes in risks. “In the past, the agency would plan how it would target its efforts. But, the agency recognizes that in today's world, things change very quickly,” says Bouchard-Steeves. “That means a consistent, streamlined, efficient approach to delivering inspections is needed.” The new approach to inspections will be less prescriptive and more outcome-based. Food makers will be informed of requirements, but will determine their own actions to meet those requirements. Then, CFIA agents will verify the facility against those requirements, rather than telling people exactly what they need to do in their specific processes or their establishments.
CFIA is equipping its inspectors with better mobile tools and better guides, recognizing they have to make quick, difficult decisions on a daily basis. “CFIA wants to ensure inspectors have 24/7 support and have easily-accessible information always available so decisions can be more consistent across all agents throughout the country,” says Bouchard-Steeves. “Additionally, CFIA inspectors can make decisions with confidence knowing their information comes from one central source. This makes further actions more predictable both for them and the industry.”
CFIA is also digitizing its tools and services for the food industry to strengthen its inspection process and lower its risk levels. “Digital is the first choice for nearly all consumers and businesses alike,” says Bouchard-Steeves. “CFIA made the decision to embrace technology so industry can access the agency, its services, or needed information nearly instantly.”
Maintaining And Improving Global Leadership
CFIA will continue to advocate and foster an international consensus for standards to help enhance food safety. These efforts include GFSI benchmarks, such as BRC, SQF, BAP, and CanadaGAP. “We will further our efforts of adhering to, maintaining, and improving standards with international trading partners,” says Bouchard-Steeves. “By continuing to influence international standards, Canada will improve market access, both for imports and exports, for its products.”