Food handlers facing new regulations in 2013 [from the MM&D print edition]

by Array

Any company that handles, stores or transports food better be prepared for major changes to government regulations regarding food safety, even if nobody is entirely sure exactly what those changes are going to be.

Speakers on a food safety and transport panel delivered that message to one group of attendees to the 2012 Transportation Conference.

Held in Toronto, the conference included keynote speeches and breakout sessions. Topics of the keynotes included: improving the efficiency and sustainability aspects of trucking operations (presented by Dan Carruthers, director of supply chain services for Lakeside Logistics); Chinese investment in Canadian and international markets (presented by Wenran Jiang, project director of the China-Canada Energy and Environmental Forum and associate professor of political studies at the University of Alberta); the bull run in the worldwide commodities market (presented by Patricia Mohr, vice-president and commodity market specialist at the Scotiabank Group); and doing business ethically (presented by Don Soderquist, former Walmart COO and founding executive of the Soderquist Centre for Leadership and Ethics).

The breakout sessions, which allowed attendees to interact with each other and presenters, covered transportation law, the automotive sector, shipper-carrier networking and the previously mentioned food safety track.

The food safety track focused on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Bill S-11—the Safe Food for Canadians Act, the US Food Safety and Modernization Act, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and how, over the coming year, these agencies and regulations will alter the way the food handling industry operates.

“In Canada we are entering into an environment of unparalleled change in how food is going to be regulated, inspected and enforced, which will require changes to your fundamental business structure. If you deal with food, you will be impacted,” warned Keith Mussar, vice-president of regulatory affairs at IE Canada—the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters.

South of the border, the US Food Safety and Modernization Act was signed into law in January 2011. It will require all domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food for human or animal consumption in the US to have registered with the Food and Drug Administration. As well, they will have to re-register every two years.

But it’s more complicated than simply registering. There are additional levels of oversight being imposed on food handlers and shippers who send foodstuffs to the US, says Mark Feduke, director of trade compliance for VLM Foods Inc, describing the changes as a CTPAT-equivalent for foodstuffs.

“The United States, under the Food Safety Modernization Act, will essentially create a two-tiered import channel for food going into the US. If you export or carry food into the United States, you will need to be aware of this. The two channels are a basic channel and a trusted channel. Those are my words not the FDA words.

“When I say ‘basic’, I say that tongue-in-cheek because basic will be the minimum criteria moving forward and it’s far from simplistic. Section 301 title 3, uses very restrictive language as to who is now defined as an importer, and how US Customs defines an importer is not going to be the same as how FDA defines an importer.”

According to Feduke, “An importer, for FDA purposes, is the US owner or consignee of that product at the time of entry—not release. In the absence of a US owner or consignee is the foreign owner’s or foreign consignee’s agent in the US.”

Feduke says the importer will be required to demonstrate to the government they are actually verifying the food produced overseas meets the same food safety standards as foods produced and sold in the US.

“The regulations have not been promulgated yet, but the actual details are in law where potential verification activities might include record monitoring, lot-by-lot certification, on-site inspections.”

While there is only one piece of legislation in the US that requires action, there are a number of initiatives happening in Canada.

First, a food importer licensing program for foods that fall into the non-federally regulated sector is being carried out under the Canadian Agricultural Products Act.

The government of Canada is “instilling greater responsibility on food importers to be responsible for what happens in foreign jurisdictions, be accountable for what happens during the transport of food from the foreign jurisdiction into Canada, and greater accountability for the safety of that food once it arrives in Canada,” says Mussar.

“The regulation will say essentially this: ‘As an importer you will have to have a licence. You will have to pay a fee for that licence. And this regulation will come into force roughly fall next year.”

In his presentation, Mussar outlined a number of steps needed in order to qualify for the licence. First, applicants must be residents of Canada. He warned that US-based companies without Canadian residents, and courier companies, especially those offering expedited services, may have difficulties with this portion of the regulation.

“There could be unintended consequences. If, for example you are representing a carrier business from an American exporter, under licensing they now have to have a licence holder that is domiciled in Canada, so how will that affect the supply chain?”

In order to qualify for a licence, businesses must show they have a prevention safety plan in place, have implemented a series of best practices with regards to preventative controls, will have to undergo a risks evaluation, and finally the risk control system will need to be audited and verified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Besides the licensing program there is also Bill S-11, which passed into law in November. It applies not only to all importers and exporters, but also to business that manufacture products that cross provincial border. It requires all such businesses to be licensed, to have mandatory food recall plans, and preventative plans.

Mussar says the food licensing regulations will likely be applied in March 2013 and fully implemented by October.