Guide to Importing Food Products Commercially
Section D - General Requirements for Foods

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Health and Safety

To ensure a safe and nutritious food supply, all foods sold in Canada, whether domestic or imported, must meet the health and safety requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Enforcement is provided for in criminal law.

Section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act prohibits the sale of an article of food that:

  1. has in or upon it any poisonous or harmful substance;
  2. is unfit for human consumption;
  3. consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, disgusting, rotten, decomposed or diseased animal or vegetable substance;
  4. is adulterated; or
  5. was manufactured, prepared, preserved, packaged, or stored under unsanitary conditions.

Good Importing Practices

Good Importing Practices are proper food handling procedures that facilitate the identification and control of problems that may be encountered at all stages of importation, from the planning stages through to the final distribution in Canada. Adherence to Good Importing Practices should ensure compliance with the health and safety requirements of Canadian legislation.

Labelling

All foods packaged for consumer use and imported into Canada must comply with basic food labelling requirements specified by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations.

Labelling requirements include the common name of the food, a list of ingredients and components, the name and address of the responsible party, a net quantity declaration in metric and a best before date when required. The Nutrition Facts table is mandatory for most prepackaged foods with some exceptions and exemptions. The format and information provided must comply with the Guidelines on Nutritional Labelling developed by Health Canada and also with the Food and Drug Regulations. Agricultural and fish products for which standards exist under the Meat Inspection Act, Canadian Agricultural Products Act and associated Regulations, and the Fish Inspection Act may have additional labelling requirements (e.g. grade or country of origin).

All mandatory labelling information and nutritional labelling, other than the name and address of responsible party, is required to be declared in both French and English.

It should be noted that Canadian labelling requirements may differ significantly from those of the United States and other countries. As an example, the United States' Nutrition Labelling Information (Nutrition Facts) is not currently permitted on products imported into Canada.

Net Quantity

In Canada, net quantity declarations on consumer packaged products must be expressed in metric units of weight (grams or kilograms), volume (millilitres, litres) or count (when applicable). The manner of declaring net quantity and the method of determining the accuracy of net quantity declarations for consumer packaged products, as well as commercial, industrial or institutional products, are based on the average system. The average system is prescribed in the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations, in the case of consumer packaged products, and the Weights and Measures Act and Regulations, in the case of commercial, industrial or institutional products.

The average system is based on three criteria:

  • the average net content of all packages in a lot must not be less than the declared net quantity;
  • only a specified number of samples in a lot are allowed to contain less than the declared net quantity by more than the prescribed tolerance (as set out in the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations); and
  • no more than one sample in a lot may contain less than the declared net quantity by more than twice the prescribed tolerance.

Sampling procedures for the average system are designed to be closely representative of the lot of merchandise being tested.

The Weights and Measures Act and Regulations prescribe the manner of net quantity declarations for food products sold in bulk and clerk-served foods sold at retail.

Transportation

Food products require more careful handling than other commodities. Food should not be shipped with dangerous or hazardous goods (chemicals, auto parts, etc.) Food shipments that have been contaminated by incompatible goods in the container/truck may be refused entry into Canada. Temperature sensitive goods, such as frozen food or fresh fruits, require a climate controlled shipping environment.

Requirements for safe transportation of goods should be part of the agreement between traders and carriers.

Food Allergens

A variety of foods can cause adverse reactions in hypersensitive individuals. These reactions can vary from minor to life-threatening. Most adverse food reactions are caused by the following foods or their derivatives:

  • peanuts
  • tree nuts (e.g., almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pinenuts, pistachios, walnuts)
  • sesame seeds
  • milk
  • eggs
  • fish
  • crustaceans (e.g., crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp)
  • shellfish (e.g., clams, mussels, oysters, scallops)
  • soy
  • wheat
  • sulphites
  • mustard

If these foods and their by-products or derivatives are not labelled or are incorrectly labelled, or if inadvertent carry-over occurs during manufacture, the results can be serious and sometimes fatal.

Despite all possible precautions, the presence of allergens cannot always be avoided. Consequently, a policy on precautionary labelling has been developed, which allows industry to voluntarily label products that may inadvertently contain substances capable of causing severe adverse reactions (e.g., "May contain peanuts").

Addition of Vitamin and Mineral Nutrients to Food

The addition of vitamins, minerals and amino acids to food is regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Section D.03.002 of the Food and Drug Regulations specifies which foods may be enriched and with which nutrients. (There are limited exceptions to this regulation).

Canadian requirements for the addition of nutrients to food may differ significantly from the United States and other countries.

Vitamins and/or mineral supplements are regulated as drugs in Canada. For further information on these products, contact the Therapeutic Products Directorate of Health Canada.

Foods Containing Food Additives

The use of food additives is strictly controlled by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. The food additive tables in Division 16 of the Regulations prescribe which additives may be used in foods sold in Canada, to which foods they may be added, for what purposes, and at what levels.

Canadian requirements and the list of acceptable food additives may differ from those of the United States and other countries. Products containing non-permitted food additives may be refused entry into Canada.

Food Irradiation

Irradiation of food is regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Only the following foods are currently allowed to be irradiated in Canada: potatoes, onions, wheat, flour, whole wheat flour, whole or ground spices and dehydrated seasoning preparations.

Special labelling requirements apply to irradiated foods and foods containing irradiated ingredients. Irradiated foods not in compliance with the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations are not permitted for sale in Canada.

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