Understanding food safety laws
As a food business owner or manager, you need to be sure you comply with:
- Federal government food safety laws
- Alberta provincial food safety laws
- Local municipal legislation
If you don’t comply you risk being fined, prosecuted or even having your business closed.
Federal and provincial laws
Health Canada is responsible for establishing policies and setting food safety standards for food businesses.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for enforcing these policies and standards.
The following are federal acts and regulations related to food safety in Canada:
- Food and Drugs Act
- Safe Food for Canadians Act
Note: The Safe Food for Canadians Act consolidates the authorities of the Fish Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Products Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, which were repealed 15 January, 2019.
Provincial food safety laws are set by:
- Alberta Food Regulation Act according to the Alberta Public Health Act
- Alberta Food Retail and Food Services Code
- Alberta Dishwashing Standards
These laws require that food sold in Alberta is safe and suitable for human consumption and meets all standards set out in the Food Services Code.
Food Safety in Alberta is governed by:
- Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
- Alberta Health Services
Permits and licences
Most food businesses in Alberta require a permit to operate. An application for a permit must be made in writing to the regional health authority in the area where the business plans to operate. Permits are valid for one year and must be displayed in a place which is easily seen by customers.
Food Handler Certification
Alberta food safety legislation
Alberta’s Food Regulation (section 31) requires food businesses to employ staff that have obtained Food Handler Certification.
To receive Food Handler Certification, Food Handlers are required to complete an Alberta approved Food Handler Certification course.
At a minimum, Alberta food businesses must comply with the following legislation:
- If there are five or fewer Food Handlers (including waitstaff) working on the premises, then there must be at least one person with a valid Food Handler Certificate who works for the business. The person who holds the Food Handler Certificate is not required to be present.
- If there are six or more Food Handlers (including waitstaff) working on the premises, then at least one person must have a valid Food Handler Certificate. The person(s) who holds the Food Handler Certificate must be a member of management or hold a supervisory position and be present in the business.
Food Handler Certification is a legal requirement for many of your staff, but it's recommended to certify every staff member who handles food in your business.
Having your entire workforce complete a Food Handler Certification course helps ensure your business is never the cause of food poisoning.
The CIFS Food Handler Certification course is approved and accepted by the Alberta Government.
Food Handler Certification renewal is recommended every five years.
Businesses that do not meet the minimum requirements open themselves to fines.
Food safety inspections
Provincial governments, municipalities and regional health authorities monitor food safety across Alberta. Be prepared for Inspectors to visit your business before its opening and then every four to six months after.
Inspectors will request to see Food Handler Certificates and your Food Safety Plan.
They also have the authority to:
- enter your business at any time without notice
- examine any area and equipment in your business
- take samples of food or food contaminants
- issue warning notices and fines
- close your business immediately
What happens if I don’t comply?
If your business fails to meet Alberta’s food safety requirements, the consequences are severe.
For serious offences, your Food Handling Permit may be suspended or revoked, closing your business immediately.
Each offence committed may result in fines totalling tens of thousands of dollars.
For serious breaches, employees, proprietors, managers and company directors may be prosecuted.
In Alberta, inspection results are available to the public on the Alberta Health Services website.
When public health is at risk, your business may have food seized and destroyed.
Brand and reputation damage
Your business may struggle to recover its reputation if the media reports a food safety incident.