The Meat Plant Audit Program

Information for operators of provincially licensed meat plants

The Ontario government is committed to continuing to strengthen and support Ontario's strong record of food safety.

The safety of Ontario's meat supply is regulated by the Meat Regulation (O. Reg. 31/05) under the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001. Apart from federally registered establishments, meat plants that slaughter and/or produce meat and meat products for sale only in Ontario are provincially licensed and inspected by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

In addition to regular inspection services, all provincially licensed meat plants are subject to periodic compliance verification audits. The Meat Plant Audit Program is administered by the Food Inspection Branch of OMAFRA.

Why are meat plants audited?

Provincially licensed abattoirs and freestanding meat plants are audited to verify their compliance with the food safety requirements as set out in the Meat Regulation. A compliance verification audit is a point-in-time that provides a picture of a plant's food safety performance against the regulatory requirements.

Who does the audit?

The Food Inspection Branch administers the Meat Plant Audit Program using veterinary and food safety experts as auditors. Ministry veterinarians conduct the compliance verification audits in abattoirs. QMI-SAI Canada Limited has been selected, through a competitive procurement process, to conduct the compliance verification audits in freestanding meat plants as well as the processing portion of slaughter plants that carry out processing activities that have an increased food safety risk, such as curing, dehydrating, fermenting or smoking a meat product.

How often will my plant be audited?

All provincially licensed plants are audited periodicially. A plant may be audited more often if it is producing a higher-risk product or has received an unsatisfactory rating. Plant operators are generally notified when their audit will occur.

How does the audit work?

Auditors conduct on-site visits to review the overall structure, operations and documentation of a meat plant. Findings are assessed against the regulatory requirements, using the Meat Plant Guidelines (MPGs), to determine whether or not the plant is compliant. The MPGs are a resource and a tool used to assist auditors in the assessment of a meat plant's compliance with the regulatory requirements.

Compliance verification audits cover the following areas:

  • Premises, Facilities and Equipment of Meat Plants
  • Water Used in Meat Plants
  • Operation of Meat Plants
  • Personnel at Meat Plants
  • Slaughter of Food Animals (including humane handling and animal welfare standards)
  • Inedible Materials
  • Meat Products - Process Controls
  • Meat Product Standards
  • Inspection Legend, Labelling and Packaging
  • Transportation Standards
  • Distribution Records, Recall Procedure and Notice to the Public

Each MPG standard has been assigned an objective risk ranking (low, medium, high, significant-high or critical-high). The risk ranking is a score that reflects the food safety impact of a deficiency for that particular standard. The ranking of the standards maximizes the objectivity and transparency of the compliance verification process.

For example, there would be a lower impact on food safety if a plant does not meet the requirement for clearly posting notices outlining the plant visitor policy at the plant entrances versus a significant-high food safety risk if the plant's refrigerated storage fails to maintain an internal meat/meat product temperature of 4ºC or less.

Audit ratings

Following the audit, the plant receives an audit rating which reflects the types and number of deficiencies that are noted during the audit. As of September 1, 2010, a simplified audit rating system was implemented to improve transparency. This easy-to-understand system is similar to that used by several jurisdictions for evaluating food safety at restaurants.

There are three possible audit ratings:

Rating
What the rating means:
Pass

When no critical or significant high-risk deficiencies are observed or the total number of deficiencies observed falls within defined limits.

The plant meets or exceeds regulatory requirements and can operate as a licensed plant.

Conditional Pass

When one or more significant high-risk deficiencies are observed or the total number of deficiencies observed exceeds defined acceptable limits.

The plant needs to address certain deficiencies within a defined period of time to achieve a "Pass" rating and continue to operate as a licensed plant.

Fail

When one or more critical high-risk deficiencies are observed or the total number of deficiencies observed exceeds defined acceptable limits.

The plant cannot operate and its licence is suspended.

All meat plants that receive a "Pass" rating following the audit or move into a "Pass" rating following appropriate corrective action(s) are included on the published list of licensed meat plants on OMAFRA's website. This list is updated regularly.

What happens when the audit is completed?

Immediately after the on-site audit has been completed, the auditor holds and exit meeting with the plant management, provides a summary of observations and highlights deficiencies. Following the exit meeting:

  • Ministry inspection staff ensure that any deficiencies identified during an audit, that may have an immediate impact on food safety, are addressed and corrected right away so that they do not represent a risk to public health. If a critical public health issue exists, the operator's licence may be provisionally suspended.
  • Ministry inspection staff schedule a corrective action plan (CAP) meeting with the operator. The timing of that meeting depends on the plant's audit rating.
  • During the CAP meeting, participants agree on an action plan and timelines to correct deficiencies found in the plant as the result of the audit.
  • Ministry inspection staff monitor the implementation of the CAP, work with the plant operator, and provide assistance and advice to deal with the corrective action plan and any food safety or animal welfare issues identified in the audit.

Failure on the part of the plant operator to meet the agreed upon CAP action-by-dates may result in progressive compliance action.

What happens if my licence is suspended?

If a plant's licence to operate is suspended as a result of the compliance verification audit, a notice of opportunity for a hearing before a Director is sent to the operator. Ministry staff will work with the plant operator and provide compliance assistance and advice.

A plant's licence may only be reinstated once a hearing has been held and/or the Director is satisfied that the corrective action(s), taken by plant operator to bring the plant's compliance to an acceptable level, has been completed.

For additional information contact:


Veterinary Inspection and Audit Unit
Food Inspection Branch
Minstry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
5th Floor, 1 Stone Road West
Guelph, ON N1G 4Y2
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Tel: 1-519-826-1300
Author: Food Safety and Environment Division/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 17 February 2002
Last Reviewed: 13 February 2012