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A New Partnership with Canada on Food Safety

By Caroline Smith DeWaal

A New Partnership with Canada on Food Safety

Source: The FDA Voice Blog

With a shared border that is more than 5,500 miles long, Canada and the United States have a lot in common — including a shared food supply. So it is no surprise that Canadian food safety agencies and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have signed a “systems recognition arrangement” to mark an important new food safety partnership.  Notably, this is only the second arrangement of this type. The first was signed in December 2012 between FDA and New Zealand’s food safety authority.

Systems recognition not only allows FDA to better plan its oversight of high risk foods, it also increases our reliance on regulators in other parts of the world that have demonstrated they provide a similar system of food safety protection. This is one tool that we use to help ensure that consumers have confidence that their food is safe, whether produced in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Under this arrangement between FDA and Canadian food safety authorities signed on May 4, 2016, FDA recognizes that Canada operates a national food safety control system with regulatory programs comparable to ours. A major advantage of this arrangement is that it allows FDA to be more risk-based in its oversight of imported food.

With systems recognition in place with Canada and New Zealand, FDA can plan more wisely its overall inspection activities, including foreign facility inspections, import field exams, and import sampling. In this reciprocal arrangement, both countries benefit.  Systems recognition advances cooperation and confidence building between our two regulatory systems and it paves the way for sharing information related to food safety.

Systems recognition is a very high bar to reach. Why? For one, the strength of food safety regulatory systems varies widely around the globe. At FDA, systems recognition is an option for countries with domestic food safety systems that have preventive, risk-based programs in place. We understand that any country can have a food safety incident.

For systems recognition to work well, we want to know that the country’s regulatory authorities have the ability to swiftly track down the source of a foodborne illness and take action to stop contaminated food in its tracks –and to follow up to prevent such events from happening again. While systems recognition arrangements are entirely voluntary for the two countries that enter into them, they mark a high degree of trust in participating countries’ abilities to both prevent and respond to food-related outbreaks and contamination events. Following a rigorous review, we are confident that Canada has systems in place to accomplish this.

Before entering into a systems recognition arrangement with Canada, FDA undertook an evidence-based assessment of Canada’s domestic food safety system. We used the International Comparability Assessment Tool (ICAT) to evaluate all aspects of the system, from the regulatory foundation, to the training, inspection, and compliance programs, to the investigation of outbreaks and trackbacks to find contaminated food sources. Onsite reviews were an important part of the assessment process; those reviews allowed FDA to see first-hand how Canada implements the programs they’ve described in the ICAT and Canada conducted a similar review of the way FDA operates its food safety programs.

Systems recognition is intended to facilitate discussions that lead to a continuous improvement process for regulators on both sides of the border. For example, in recent years, new legislation was adopted in each country that emphasizes preventive control systems and import safety: The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act became law in 2011 and the Safe Food for Canadians Act was passed in 2012. As our respective food safety systems, regulatory frameworks, programs and oversight continue to improve, we are committed to this partnership with Canada for the benefit of consumers on both sides of the border.

Caroline Smith DeWaal is the International Food Safety Policy Manager on the International Affairs Staff at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.