Licence to travel

Laura Aiken
April 01, 2014
Written by
If you export or import food across provincial or national boundaries, there are changes coming your way that will affect your wallet and how you operate. These new regulations will apply to everyone, from large commercial enterprises to the small artisan baker in a border city who sells bread to a restaurant in a neighbouring province.

Here’s the scoop: The Safe Food for Canadians Act, which has been approved, will turn baking into a licensed industry like meat or egg production. This means any business exporting or importing ingredients or finished products within or outside Canada will need a licence, and that licence will only be provided if the operation has a Preventative Control Plan (PCP) that meets the government’s criteria. A broker who imports will need a licence, and so will the bakery that is bringing in ingredients for a specialty product it is selling locally, explains Laura Pasut, director of food and nutrition policy for the Baking Association of Canada (BAC). Pasut has been working closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as the regulatory move marches forward. She expects to see the first draft of the new rules and guidance documents in late spring, but a timeline for when they will go into effect has not been publicized yet.

The licence is expected to cost about $250 and will need to be renewed every two years. But this isn’t the aspect of the new rules that bakeries will need to prepare financially for. It’s the PCP that has the potential to bear a financial burden.  

“If they currently have a food safety plan [like HACCP], many will meet a lot of the expectations, but perhaps not 100 per cent, such as in the area of traceability documentation, for example,” says Pasut.

The cost of PCP implementation will depend on the complexity of the business, she says. For example, if you have meat or cheese in your products, expectations will be greater. Work is currently being done to see whether established programs and auditors will be able to help with the new requirements.

If the requirements are similar to HACCP, then research on HACCP may be a starting point for considering what challenges could lay ahead for bakeries that do not currently have a written formalized food safety plan.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency website lists seven universally accepted HACCP principles. Every country that uses HACCP follows these principles.

The first principle is hazard analysis. At this stage, a plan is laid out to identify all possible food safety hazards that could cause a product to be unsafe for consumption, and the measures that can be taken to control those hazards.

The second principle is identifying critical control points. These are the points in the production process where an action can be taken to prevent, eliminate, or reduce a food safety hazard to an acceptable level.

The third principle is establishing critical limits for each critical control point. A critical limit is the limit at which a hazard is acceptable without compromising food safety.

The fourth principle is establishing monitoring procedures for critical control points. Highly detailed monitoring activities are essential to make sure the process continues to operate safely and within the critical limits at each critical control point.

The fifth principle is crucial: establishing corrective actions. These actions must be taken to bring the production process back on track if monitoring indicates that deviation from critical limits has occurred.

The sixth principle is establishing verification procedures. Verification means applying methods, procedures, tests, sampling and other evaluations (in addition to monitoring) to determine whether a control measure at a critical control point is or has been operating as intended.

The seventh principle is record keeping. Records must be kept by the company to demonstrate the effective application of the critical control points, and assist with official verification (which is done, in Canada, by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency).

Spencer Henson, a professor in the of agricultural economics and business department at the University of Guelph, spearheaded a two year study on barriers to HACCP implementation in the Ontario food processing sector. The research concluded that staff time and associated costs were the biggest expense. Consultants and new equipment were surprisingly far less significant costs. Other challenges Henson and his team discovered included staff motivation, record-keeping and process management. Implementing HACCP did, however, seem to improve staff motivation to follow food safety and hygiene policies. 

The new act and its measures for bakeries are all aimed at improving food safety and traceability. Expectations of your PCP may differ when importing versus exporting to the U.S. because your products entering their market will need to meet the criteria outlined in their new Food Modernization Safety Act.

“They will have expectations that Canadian manufacturers need to meet in their PCP.

What the two governments are trying to do is make it so that if you pass one, you will pass the other; that your audit will meet the needs of both.”

The guidance documents for the PCP are still in the works, so the specifics of what will need to be done are not yet available. Since the bakery industry is not currently licensed as meat and eggs already are, Pasut says she believes there will be a transition period allowed to give businesses time to get themselves up to code. 

Once that period is over, failure to keep your operation up to snuff will carry a potential for penalties. Depending on the infraction, it could start with a warning but lead to a suspension of business, cancellation of licence, or a fine (officially called an Administrative Monetary Penalty, but it will cost you, all the same). 

Companies with multiple manufacturing facilities have the option of having one or two licences. The advantage, says Pasut, of having multiple licences is that if something goes wrong at one location you can keep the other one going. If you only have one license, all locations could be shutdown temporarily.

While the regulations are definitely going forward, their specifics are still going through due process. There are several things Pasut recommends bakers and suppliers do now to prepare themselves for what’s to come:
  • Keep informed. When documents come out for consultation, give your input.
  • Attend the education session at Bakery Showcase. It will provide a good idea of the specific expectations and mark the first time the government will be available to answer questions specific to the baking industry.
  • Look and see what your business currently does. If you import, do you want to be responsible for the ingredients or decide to go through a broker instead? Do you currently have a market outside your province?
  • Become a member. If you are not already a member of the BAC, Pasut encourages you to become one to receive additional assistance through the process. 
  • For now, this affects baking companies doing business over borders. One day, provincial governments may apply the same rules as well, says Pasut. It seems wise to get prepared for the costs of doing business.

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