Federal inspectors plan a mammoth spot-check of grocery items in 11 cities nationwide in a hunt for “hazards” to public health.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will hire contractors to conduct an audit of 21,545 food and drink samples to be tested at federal labs for bacteria, illegal additives and contamination. Authorities said the inspections will occur between December 1 and next September 1.
Rona Ambrose, health minister responsible for the agency, did not take Blacklock’s questions.
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency needs to conduct surveys to determine the background levels of contamination in certain targeted food areas,” the agency reported; “Each hazard represents a survey. A hazard is a source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effect.”
However inspectors did not divulge what foods were “targeted” for suspected health violations under the Food and Drugs Act. Two items cited as examples for sampling procedures were imported organic leafy greens and a Swiss-made Lindt hazelnut chocolate bar.
“If you’re trying to assess risk to protect people, does a brand-name chocolate bar pose the same risk as lettuce picked in Mexico?” said Christopher Kyte, president of the Food Processors of Canada. “Our members already exceed minimum standards because their names are on the package. Wouldn’t you gravitate to products that are not made in licensed food plants in Canada or the United States?”
The inspection agency proposes to collect lab samples from grocery stores, “ethnic stores”, specialty food outlets, coffee and tea houses, juice bars and U-pick farms. Sampled goods include any processed food and drink products, including chewing gum, as well as dairy, eggs and meat, honey, fresh fruit and vegetables.
An industry group Food & Consumer Products of Canada noted spot checks by federal inspectors are commonplace but “this would definitely be considered a robust review.”
“It’s important to identify outlying grey market and improperly labelled products,” said Adam Grachnik, senior communications director.
The eleven cities targeted for inspection are Metro Toronto (with 6,052 food samples to be lab tested); Montréal (3,887 samples); Vancouver (3,185); Ottawa (2,407); Calgary (2,367); Québec City (1,125); Halifax (1,058); Winnipeg (450); Saskatoon (338); Kelowna, B.C. (338); and Saint John (338).
Inspectors did not explain what criteria were used in targeting cities for inspections.
“These numbers are provided as estimates only for planning purposes,” the agency said. “They should in no way be construed as final.”
The inspection agency did not say if it intended to publish the findings of its audits.
By Tom Korski