The major point that differentiates U.S. and Canadian detection and enforcement capabilities is a government-controlled random sampling program of fruits and vegetables.
The FDA puts this burden on manufacturers or waits to be informed by local health officials that people are getting sick and there appears to be a common food source, such as what happened during the E. coli outbreak involving fresh spinach in 2006.
CFIA, on the other hand, routinely conducts random sampling throughout Canada. Balsom said random sampling is just one of the “triggers” that sets in motion an investigation and a potential recall.
“There can be a consumer complaint against a product or we could get a referral from another government department,” he said. “The investigation would entail the product lot codes, sampling information, illness reports and the epidemiological investigation into any outbreak.”
Once the investigation is completed, he said, CFIA would seek a health risk assessment in conjunction with Health Canada, the agency responsible for setting standards on food and drug safety. After CFIA received the assessment it would contact the “owner of the product,” the retailer or distributor in Canada, to set in motion a public advisory and a joint press release with the company announcing a voluntary recall.
Through memorandums of understandings with various countries, CFIA then notifies the FDA or other appropriate country agencies where the product is also available to consumers.
Under its present recall policies, FDA only monitors company recalls and assess their actions. After a recall it may send investigators to make sure the product has been disposed of properly and examine facility sanitary conditions, as it did during the most recent recall involving Dole’s facility in Springfield, Ohio.
The surge of investigative activity during the E. coli outbreak last year was an aberration because the agency is primarily set up to examine written reports rather than conducting field investigations, because of personnel cutbacks over the last decade.
The FDA and CFIA do not issue news releases to notify the public when the danger of eating the implicated products has passed. That responsibility, Balsom said, is the company’s.