Among the findings identified in the audit was that Canadian government plant inspectors did not check every carcase to ensure it was free from residues of faeces or digestive waste.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) described this as an “issue” that raised “significant questions” about Canada’s meat inspection protocol.
Its report noted: “Government inspectors may not have been conducting complete carcase-by-carcase post-mortem inspection to ensure freedom from contamination with faeces, milk or ingesta for reconditioned carcases prior to applying the mark of inspection.”
FSIS carried out the audit from 12-30 September 2016 to identify if a Canadian system for ensuring meat and egg quality remained equivalent to its own. The audit was shared with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in April 2017.
Canada not tolerating carcase contamination
The majority of checks did not turn up any issue, but red meat slaughterhouses not running carcase-by-carcase checks was a “significant finding”, according to FSIS. The agency said this system might be “inconsistent” with its own standards. No punitive action is believed to have been taken against the plants, although the US could stop buying meat from them if it wished.
A spokesperson for CFIA told GlobalMeatNews: “Canada has a strong and reliable food safety system, and Canadian food safety regulations and controls are in line with those of our major trading partners, including the United States – both countries have high standards for food safety. Canada and the US have different approaches to verify that carcases are free of contamination, and neither Canada nor the US tolerates contamination on food animal carcases.”
If a CFIA meat inspector found contamination on a carcase after it had been trimmed and released by the operator, it would not be sent to market without the oversight and approval of the agency, it added.
Canada wants ‘common understanding’
FSIS and CFIA are in talks to address the issue of carcase-by-carcase post-mortem inspection. The spokesperson added CFIA’s goal in these discussions was “to achieve a common understanding about how two inspection systems meet the same food safety outcome”.
In total, FSIS inspectors carried out checks on seven Canadian slaughterhouses (two pig, two beef, two poultry and one goat), four further processing factories, one egg-processing plant, as well as a cold storage premises and two laboratories.
It is common for two countries trading agricultural goods with one another to routinely carry out audits on factories, slaughterhouses and other establishments to ensure the food they import is safe, unadulterated and properly labelled.
Canada is eligible to export raw and processed meat and poultry and eggs to the US.
The Canadian Meat Council and FSIS could not be reached to comment on the audit. The full report can be accessed here.