Top 3 Food Safety Focus Areas Regulated in Canada

These are the three key food safety focus areas that are regulated by most provinces/territories in Canada.
January 16, 2020

Food safety laws and regulations differ depending on the province or territory your food business is located in. It’s important to read and understand the specific food business legislation that applies to you.

However, regardless of location, there are several key focus areas that are identified and specified in the majority of food safety regulations/laws in Canada. These include:

  1. Food handling
  2. Cleaning and sanitizing
  3. Food Handler hygiene and training

Food handling

Safe food handling procedures and protocols differ depending on the types of food that are prepared and food handling activities that take place in a facility.

Nonetheless, there are some fundamental rules that must be followed to prevent food poisoning and other health risks from occurring. These rules govern critical food safety activities, such as food storage and temperature control of potentially hazardous foods (also called "high-risk foods").

Improper food storage can lead to food contamination. For example, storing raw meat above ready-to-eat food in the refrigerator can cause ready-to-eat food to become contaminated with raw meat juices.

Failure to protect food from contamination/adulteration is one of the most common food safety breaches cited by Health Inspectors across the country. Another is improper temperature control of food. 

Dangerous food-borne bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter multiply rapidly in specific temperatures, which is why most provincial/territorial regulations specify that potentially hazardous foods must be stored outside the Temperature Danger Zone (‘danger zone’)*.

In general, it is best to follow the 2-hour rule, which states that high-risk foods must be discarded after they have been in the ‘danger zone’ for more than two hours. Ensure that anyone who works with food in your business is fully trained in the correct procedures for time and temperature control for the types of food that you prepare. 

*In most Canadian provinces and territories, the ‘danger zone’ is specified as between 4°C and 60°C (40°F – 140°F). In Manitoba, it is between 5°C and 60°C (41°F – 140°F). Refer to the relevant legislation for your province/territory if you are unsure.

Cleaning and sanitizing

Operating your business in a clean and sanitary manner is an absolute minimum requirement of any food business in Canada.

Regular cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces, equipment and utensils is essential to prevent food-borne infections and other health hazards like allergic reactions to food.

Cleaning removes visible dirt and soil (e.g. food scraps, grease, cooking oil); sanitizing reduces the number of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms to a safe level. To ensure the safety of your customers, always follow cleaning with sanitizing.

As a general rule, clean and sanitize utensils, kitchen equipment and dishware after every use. Ensure that all Food Handlers are trained in the correct procedures for cleaning and sanitizing in your business, as well as how to use specific products.

It is recommended (and in some cases mandatory) to keep records of cleaning and sanitizing activities as they are performed in your business. For example:

  • a kitchen equipment cleaning sign-off sheet
  • daily/weekly cleaning schedules
  • sanitary facilities sign-off sheet

CIFS Members can download many of these resources for free from the CIFS Resource Library.

Provincial/territorial regulations may specify cleaning and sanitizing requirements, such as the equipment to be used for cleaning and sanitizing; procedures for cleaning and sanitizing of utensils or surfaces; and/or appropriate storage of cleaning compounds.

Refer to specific legislation for your province/territory to learn more.

Food Handler hygiene and training

Many food-borne illness outbreaks are caused by Food Handlers who do not follow personal hygiene procedures like proper hand washing.

For this reason, many provinces/territories regulate Food Handler hygiene, acceptable behaviour in the workplace and food safety training requirements.

For example:

In accordance with the B.C. Food Premises Regulation, every operator of a food premises in British Columbia must ensure that:

  • each employee wears clean clothing and footwear
  • each employee takes adequate measures to ensure that food is not contaminated by hair
  • at least one employee present in the establishment holds a FOODSAFE-equivalent food safety certificate

In accordance with Ontario Regulation 493/17, every operator of a food premises in Ontario must ensure that:

  • employees do not use tobacco while engaged as a Food Handler
  • employees refrain from conduct that could result in the contamination of food or food areas
  • there is at least one Food Handler or supervisor on the premises with a food safety certificate

Review the food safety laws and regulations for your province or territory for more information about regulations related to Food Handlers.

At a minimum, food premises operators in Canada must (or should) ensure that Food Handlers:

  • exhibit cleanliness and good personal hygiene;
  • wash their hands as often as necessary to prevent the contamination of food;
  • refrain from working while ill with a contagious (or potentially contagious) infection, such as Norovirus; and
  • are trained in food safety to a level appropriate for their position and the activities they perform.

Food contamination by Food Handlers is usually unintentional. Food safety training is necessary to teach employees what is required of them; what is expected of them and what could happen if food safety procedures are not followed.

In most provinces and territories, Food Handler certification — which involves successfully completing a government-approved food handling course — is mandatory for a number of your staff.

To learn more about Food Handler certification, contact the Canadian Institute of Food Safety.