Understanding food safety laws
As a food business owner or manager, you need to be sure you comply with:
- Federal government food safety laws
- BC provincial food safety laws
- Local municipal legislation
If you fail to comply with BC food safety laws, 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Products Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, which were repealed 15 January, 2019.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:
- British Columbia Food Safety Act
- British Columbia Food Premises Regulation according to the Public Health Act
These laws require that food sold in BC is safe and suitable for human consumption and meets all standards set out in the Food Safety Act.
Food safety laws are governed by:
- British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC)
- British Columbia Ministry of Health
Permits and licences
All organizations that serve food must have a valid permit. These are obtained from regional health authorities and are valid for one year.
Food Handler Certification
British Columbia food safety legislation
British Columbia’s Food Premises Regulation (section 10) under the Public Health Act requires food businesses to employ staff that have obtained Food Handler Certification.
To receive Food Handler Certification, Food Handlers are required to complete a British Columbia approved food safety training course.
At a minimum, food businesses in British Columbia must comply with the following legislation:
- Every operator of a food business must hold an approved food safety training certificate.
- Whenever the operator of a food business is absent from the premises, at least one employee must be present who holds an approved food safety training certificate.
Most special events, temporary food establishments and community events normally require a Food Premises Operating permit and must also follow regulatory requirements.
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 workforce complete a Food Handler Certification course helps to ensure that your business is never the cause of food poisoning.
The CIFS Food Handler Certification course is approved and accepted by the British Columbia Government.
Food Safety Certification requires renewal every five years.
Businesses that do not meet the minimum requirements open themselves up to fines or even business closure.
If your Certified Food Handler unexpectedly resigns or is not present during an inspection, Inspectors may penalize your business.
Food safety inspections
Provincial governments, municipalities and regional health authorities monitor food safety across British Columbia. Be prepared for Inspectors to visit your business before its opening and then every four to six months afterwards.
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 a food business fails to meet British Columbia’s food safety training requirements, the consequences are severe.
For serious offences, your Health Operating 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 BC, inspection results are available to the public on the BC health services websites.
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.