How Can You Be Sure Your Food is Safe?

By Lauren Benoit and Carmen Tang

Canadians adore food, and rightfully so — we’re the country that combined the most artery-clogging ingredients we could find and turned the resulting dish into a national treasure known as poutine. We pour maple syrup on snow and call it dessert (or breakfast, if you’re truly dedicated). Heck, we love peameal bacon so much the rest of the globe collectively named it after us.

When it comes to food, Canada has a lot to offer and so much to be proud of, including an incredibly safe, diverse, and affordable supply.

Plentiful offerings

As Canadians,  we are privileged to a lot of choice when it comes to what we eat. If you want fresh veggies on your poutine you can have it, if you want bacon on your poutine you can have it, if you want poutine made with organic potatoes and vegetarian gravy, yes, you can have that too. The choices we have are impressive and what’s equally impressive is that every single one of those choices is just as safe as the next. Our government has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of Canadian consumers, and that is something they are very good at.

As farmers we often speak about what we do on the farm, how we follow the strict, federally-regulated protocols that ensure that food leaving our farms is safe for Canadians. The farmer is involved with- and committed to- the production of safe food, but our food safety story doesn’t stop there. A lot happens between the farm gate and dinner plate, and through every step of the value chain the safety of Canadians remains the top priority.

Keeping Canadian food safe

The Canada Food and Drug Act, created by the government of Canada, dictates the laws and policies of food. The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) enforces these laws and can be thought of as the watchdogs of food safety. The CFIA is also responsible for other parts of the food chains including: the living and transportation conditions of animals, protecting our country from foreign diseases/pests, verifying food import quality, honesty in food labelling, and the regulation of genetically modified crops (commonly referred to as GMOs).

Your beloved golden, crispy fried French fries are likely fried with vegetable oil, particularly canola oil. Much of the canola grown in Canada has been genetically modified to include different traits, namely herbicide tolerance. Genetic modification, a type of biotechnology, is regulated by CFIA and Health Canada under the Food and Drugs Act. Genetically modified crops undergo rigorous safety testing before they even reach the farmers’ fields. The regulatory process involves thoroughly researching, testing and assessing the safety of the new GM foods. In Canada, these foods are referred to as ‘Plants with Novel Traits.’ Not all plants with novel traits are genetically modified, but all are subject to the same safety standards  Each trait and crop undergoes over 200 tests on everything from toxicology, molecular biology, and nutritional composition to ensure the genetically modified product is just as safe and nutritious as its non-GMO counterpart.

After the farm

After leaving the farm, many food ingredients travel to a processing facility. The bacon in your poutine is processed at a registered butcher or meat processing plant. Every federal meat or poultry processing facility is required to follow a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) protocol to food safety standards. HACCP is an internationally-accepted approach that requires processing facilities to identify all possible food safety hazards, design protocols to control hazards, a safety verification process and corrective actions. Potatoes, under fruit and vegetable regulations, also go through a regulated processing plant where the product is cleaned, sorted, portioned then packaged. The CFIA performs safety audits where critical points throughout the plant line are tested frequently for quality control.

If you want to be assured that your “vegetarian gravy” for your poutine is, in fact, meat-free, you can rest assured that regulations and inspection efforts are in place to ensure that product labels are factual, and not misleading (especially in the case of known allergens). In the rare event of a mislabeling, the product is immediately recalled, destroyed, and removed from the marketplace.

Product inspection extends to the non-federal registered sector, too, which includes alcoholic beverages, infant foods, and bakery products, as well as to foods imported to Canada. Products in the grocery store come from all around the world; Canadian food importers must hold an importers license. This license ensures food coming into the country meets the same standards as food produced in Canada by outlining the actions taken to keep their food safe and compliant with the CFIA’s rules.

The bottom line is that as you walk through a Canadian grocery store choosing the food that you will eat and feed your family, you can be assured that each product has passed through an internationally-renowned food safety regulatory system. Regardless of what you chose — organic, genetically-modified, all-natural, local, or conventional — the choice is yours, and all options are equally safe. From there, it’s up to you to make sure you’re storing, handling, and cooking your fine Canadian foods safely!

About the authors: Carmen is a fourth-year Food Science student at the University of Guelph and president of the Food Science Club. Lauren Benoit is a science and regulatory affairs analyst at CropLife Canada, and will be starting a MSc. degree at the University of Guelph in January, 2017.

Coded eggs stand out from most others produced in Ontario

Eggs stamped with an alphanumeric code

Eggs stamped with an alphanumeric code

By Treena Hein for Farm & Food Care

(St-Isidore) It’s easy to tell a Ferme Avicole Laviolette egg from others being sold in Ontario. Each one has an alphanumeric code that signifies the date of packaging, batch date and producer. Every time their customers see the stamp, they are reminded that Laviolettes take quality and accountability very seriously. The code is also an important food safety measure, helping make any product recall both fast and accurate. For being the first in the province to implement traceability that goes beyond the carton, Marcel Laviolette recently won a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

By 2012, the year Marcel implemented the automated egg stamping system, his business’s sales territory was quite large, including dozens of grocery stores, restaurants and food wholesalers in eastern Ontario and southwest Quebec. At that time, food safety and traceability were all over the media, and being discussed at dinner tables across the nation, within the government and within the food and agriculture industry. Marcel knew that his many customers would feel that much more comfortable if each egg was stamped, something that was being done in other jurisdictions. And for the local egg producers that use Laviolette’s grading station (and make up two thirds of his egg volume), stamping would provide added peace of mind. Lastly, having coded eggs should help increase sales, being a preferred product in terms of traceability and food safety concerns. “We wanted to stand out,” Marcel explained. Continue reading

Now and Then – Beef ranching in Saskatchewan

By Tara Davidson

My family and I run a beef cow-calf ranch in southwestern Saskatchewan, raising cows with their calves. The things that I love about ranching are too numerous of course to list! I love working alongside my husband, our three children, and other family members. I like the challenges that come with raising cattle, and I enjoy working in nature daily.

An interesting thing about our ranch is that we try to implement new technologies in several capacities. Yet in many ways, we still run our cow herd the way ranchers did decades ago.

Figure 1 The author’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

Tara’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

One “old school” method that still applies to our ranch today is the use of horses to check our cattle, to move cattle from one pasture to another, and to treat sick animals. Our cattle graze in large, remote fields with rugged topography that isn’t always accessible by vehicle. Using horses allows us to get cattle where we need them to go in a quiet, albeit old-fashioned, way.

Cattle respond to our movements on horseback a bit differently than when we approach them on foot or with a vehicle. As they say, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and moving cattle is no different. We try to use our presence on horseback in relation to a cow’s “flight zone,” causing them to move in the direction we need them to go simply by moving ourselves (or our dog). It’s a subtle, yet effective way to achieve results. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to work as a team and have a horse’s additional set of eyes and another brain than solely relying on your own! Continue reading

Laplante Poultry implements award-winning product tracking system

A barcode scanning device used at Laplante Poultry (Photo courtesy of Laplante Poultry)

A barcode scanning device used at Laplante Poultry (Photo courtesy of Laplante Poultry)

By Treena Hein

(Sarsfield) – Food safety is something that the public takes very seriously – and so do farmers like Robert Laplante. Laplante is not just a broiler chicken farmer, he’s also the owner of a processing plant and it’s critically important that data input errors of all kinds are eliminated and that product recall times (if a recall was ever ordered) are as fast as possible. To do all this and more, the owner of Laplante Poultry and Feather Weight Farms implemented a completely automated product tracking system, one that won him a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. Continue reading

Ontario farmer uses barcodes to raise the bar on beef

By Jeanine Moyer

(Simcoe and Stoney Creek) – Ontario beef farmer Cory Van Groningen knows what’s important to his customers – quality

Cory Van Groningen

Cory Van Groningen

and trust. And he’s found a way to increase meat tenderness while tracing every single cut of beef from the farm, directly into the hands of his customer. All this is achieved by using barcodes and innovative tracking systems that begin at the animal’s birth, and follow right through to placing prime beef cuts in the grocery store cooler.

As co-owner of the family business, VG Meats, Van Groningen is responsible for keeping the supply chain short by raising cattle for their own processing plant and retail stores. He and his wife Heidi run a 400 cross-bred cow herd, producing beef for VG Meats and other retailers. Raising cattle directly for their own market means Van Groningen has complete control over the product through every stage, beginning at birth, to ensure health, quality and traceability.

Keeping with a 40-year family tradition of processing and retailing meat, Van Groningen also works alongside his parents and three brothers, managing and operating a processing plant and two retail locations. Selling directly to customers through two retail locations in Simcoe and Stoney Creek, ON, means Van Groningen and his family can talk directly to their customers, determining exactly what they want and what’s important to them.

“We’ve learned customers want to trust the people packaging their meat,” says Van Groningen. “They often ask questions as a way to learn more about products and test a retailer’s competency. Traceability is a way to earn their trust and help them verify they’ve made the right choice in choosing our meat products.”

As a farmer, food processor and retailer, Van Groningen knows consumer trust means the family business needs to be accountable for the products they sell. And that means product traceability right from the farm to the customer’s plate. Continue reading

Even Livestock are Getting in on the Tech Craze

Jean L Clavelle

RFID 2 PICAccording to StatsCan as of January 1, 2014 there are over 12 million beef and dairy cattle, almost 900,000 sheep and lambs, and nearly 250,000 bison in Canada.   Which is a lot of animals.  Bet you didn’t know that each and every one of those animals can be identified by its own unique number (much like our own Social Insurance Number).  The next question might be why…?  Why would livestock need to have their own number?

Well it is simple really.  With individual animal numbers we are able to easily track where any one animal came from in Canada.  The ability to identify animals and their origins during an animal health or food safety emergency is paramount to the success of the response operation and the protection of human and animal health.  Meaning it gives us the ability to prevent the spread of disease and further, to eradicate disease as it arises – to protect not only Canadian livestock but consumers and customers as well.

It was initiated in 1998 by beef and dairy industry leaders who recognized the importance of protecting our national herd and assuring consumer confidence which lead to the establishment of a national identification program.  On January 1, 2001 the Government of Canada passed regulations for compulsory animal identification for both cattle and bison. The Canadian Sheep Identification Program (CSIP) followed suit with its own industry-led trace-back system introduced in 2004 applicable to all ovine animals in Canada. Continue reading

It's All Antibiotic Free, Baby!

Reprinted with permission from Hurdhealth.com

 

It’s All Antibiotic Free, Baby!

Posted by
After all of the recent Panera and Chipotle hype about antibiotic free production, I decided to look at the data. This is also a follow up to my previous blog about antibiotic free (ABF) meat; I am going to present some data to back up my claim that there is very little difference between conventional and ABF – in other words, it’s all antibiotic free, baby! #ItsAllABF!

Due to farmers following appropriate withdrawal times, there are very few violations. In fact in the last three years of USDA testing no broiler chickens have been found with violative residues for the scheduled (random) sampling. For beef only 2 violations out of 1,600 samples were found and only 3 out of 2,200 from market hogs.  Note that antibiotics are not toxins, there are useful and very safe products used by us all.

The Bottom Line

The residue detection levels in the 3 classifications that I analyzed (beef cattle, market hogs, and broilers) are extremely small and well below the levels that would cause adverse effects to a human eating the meat. In addition, if an animal tests positive for residues, it does not enter the food supply.

Meat from an ABF farm would supposedly have zero levels of residues – but, if you aren’t going to get sick or be affected by the perfectly healthy, wholesome conventional meat, why should you pay more for something that potentially carries more foodborne illness?

From a veterinary perspective, I am concerned with the internal struggle that the ABF farmer must face. Most farmers get some premium for raising ABF meat, so if the animals get sick does the farmer treat and lose the financial benefits of ABF or wait a day or two? Waiting can increase mortality and spread of infectious disease significantly. What about the veterinarian, who has taken an oath to prevent animal suffering, but management will only let him treat a small percentage of the barns? Can these restaurateurs really argue their ABF meat provides a better “conscience choice,” if it comes at the cost of additional mortality and animal suffering? Continue reading

Accessorized

by Kim Waalderbos

Mooove on over, ladies. There’s a new diva on the block, and she’s…accessorized. Her momma too.

Cows and calves on Canadian dairy and beef farms are all sporting a pair of ‘earrings’ or ear tags that are unique to them. The cool part about these ear tags is not only are they stylish, but they serve an important purpose too — traceability.

A young dairy calf sports her Canadian national identification ear tag (the round button in her right ear).

These ear tags are part of an industry initiated, industry-led program called the Canadian Cattle Identification Program (http://CanadaID.com). Participants in Canada’s beef, dairy and bison sectors established the program January 1, 2001, with full enforcement (including fines and penalties) since July 1, 2002. Continue reading