Who’s Responsible for Food Safety in Canada?

Learn who creates and enforces the laws related to food safety in the country, and how these organizations impact food businesses.
November 4, 2021

In Canada, around four million people get sick each year due to contaminated food. To help prevent food-borne illness outbreaks in the country, federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments create laws and regulations to help ensure that food in Canada is produced, sold and consumed safely.

Food business owners and managers should be aware of the roles of the different governing bodies that regulate food safety in the country, and how these organizations impact the business and its employees.

The role of Health Canada

Health Canada is responsible for food safety at the federal level. They set the food safety standards for food businesses across the country. Working with governments, food industries and consumers, Health Canada creates the safety and nutritional quality regulations, policies and standards of all food sold in Canada. These laws and regulations include:

  • The Food and Drug Act: Aims to protect the health and safety of Canadians by setting requirements for the production, import, export, transport and sale of food, drugs and cosmetics across provinces. It requires that all food sold must be fit for human consumption.
  • The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act: Requires that prepackaged consumer products include accurate labelled information to help people make informed decisions about their purchases.
  • The Canada Agricultural Products Act: Sets out the national standards and grades of agricultural products and regulates the marketing of agricultural products in import, export and interprovincial trade.
  • The Safe Food for Canadians Act: Consolidates the food-related aspects of the Fish Inspection Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Products Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. It aims to improve and streamline food safety oversight of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The role of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) enforces the policies and standards set by Health Canada. They work with other federal, provincial, territorial and municipal authorities, along with industries and stakeholders to:

  • implement and promote food safety measures and systems
  • mitigate and manage risks, incidents and emergencies related to food, animals and plants
  • register and inspect food establishments
  • check that domestic and imported products are compliant with regulations
  • research and develop monitoring programs and food safety investigations

If a food business does not meet the standards set by these policies and regulations, the CFIA can:

  • confiscate or seize products
  • suspend or revoke licenses and permits
  • issue fines and recommend prosecution

The role of the Public Health Agency of Canada

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) works to reduce public health risks by monitoring food-borne illness outbreaks and carrying out control activities. They provide timely identification of outbreaks and risks, along with advice for food safety programs.

Laws and regulations differ by region

While Health Canada creates federal acts and regulations, food safety laws and requirements actually vary across the country’s provinces and territories, and can even differ between municipalities. Food business owners, managers and employees should know the laws and requirements specific to their area.

Restaurant and food service inspections are generally done by provincial governments, municipalities or regional health authorities. Get in contact with your local health department to ensure that you know the regulations in your area and are in compliance. Work directly with your Health Inspector and health department, not just during audits or inspections but on a regular basis, to make sure you are staying on top of food safety information and are continually finding ways to improve food safety in your business.

Food businesses also play a crucial role

These agencies and organizations govern, monitor and regulate food safety in Canada, but it is also up to food businesses to ensure the food they sell and serve are safe for human consumption. Different regions have specific requirements regarding Food Handler Certification, but it is recommended that all staff who handles food in your business get certified.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety’s (CFIS) nationally recognized Food Handler Certification Course provides food workers with the knowledge they need to minimize food safety risks, follow food safety regulations and ultimately protect the Canadian public from food-borne illness outbreaks.