About the Meat Inspection Program
- Meat Inspection Training
- Monitoring and Surveillance
- Compliance Verification Audits
- Progressive Compliance
- Complaint Resolution
- Regulator's Code of Practice
An Introduction to Meat Safety in Ontario
Regulatory Programs in Meat Plants
Meat processing plants in Ontario are either federally registered or provincially licensed. Plants that ship meat products outside the province must be federally registered. All other plants are licensed by OMAF and MRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs) under the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001 (FSQA).
Licensing and meat plant inspections are important checkpoints along the food safety chain. By tracking, recording and monitoring activities in meat plants, the ministry helps ensure that proper slaughter and meat handling procedures are achieved.
An OMAF inspector is present anytime slaughter is taking place at a provincially licensed abattoir. Inspectors ensure live animals are being treated humanely and are inspected before slaughter. All carcasses are inspected after slaughter to ensure that no unhealthy animals or unfit meat is introduced into the food chain. Inspectors also inspect premises, operational practices and ensure products are labeled properly.
Voluntary Programs in Meat Plants
OMAF works closely with industry groups, such as the Ontario Independent Meat Processors, to advance food safety in all provincial plants.
OMAF encourages the meat processing industry to adopt Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs. The Advantage Series of Food Safety programs, based on internationally recognized good manufacturing practices and HACCP, were specifically designed for Ontario's small and medium size food processors. The ministry has helped Ontario's abattoirs and free standing meat plants make necessary changes through the Meat Plant Assistance Program, the Growing Forward Food Safety and Traceability Initiative and the Traceability Foundations Initiative.
Ontario's 170 meat inspectors, including meat hygiene officers and further processing inspectors, undergo comprehensive and rigorous training so they are thoroughly qualified and provide expert, consistent advice. Meat inspectors have many responsibilities including:
- inspecting facilities for sanitation,
- maintaining operational standards,
- monitoring adherence to regulations regarding the manufacture, preparation, packaging and labeling of meat products,
- ensuring the humane treatment of animals,
- determining if live animals are healthy and fit for slaughter,
- inspecting animal carcasses after slaughter to determine if they are fit for consumption,
- approving carcasses and applying the inspection legend,
- identifying carcasses and portions of carcasses suspected of disease, and
- collecting samples for lab testing,
- guarding against environmental contaminants.
Meat Inspector Training Program
Certification recognizes that an inspector appointed under the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001 is fully qualified to conduct all inspection duties and related responsibilities in Ontario's provincially licensed meat plants. The training program contributes to uniformity of inspections across the province.
The Meat Inspection Program relies on veterinarians, subject matter experts (from within and outside the ministry), and experienced inspectors to help train newly hired meat inspection staff.
There are numerous checks and balances in Ontario's meat inspection system including: veterinary oversight (veterinary scientists, regional veterinarians); technical support (food scientists, regulatory specialists); regular laboratory testing; and compliance verification audits.
OMAF uses a microbiological monitoring program in provincially licensed meat plants that produce ready-to-eat meat products. Our meat inspectors collect samples of ready-to-eat meat products.
Test results are compared to Health Canada guidelines and shared with operators. If test results exceed Health Canada's acceptable limits the ministry notifies the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which then conducts a risk assessment and takes appropriate action, including a possible product recall. OMAF meat inspection staff work with plant operators as they implement a corrective action plan.
Monitoring test results gives operators important information regarding the effectiveness of food safety protocols in their plants. The program also provides useful information about areas of potential contamination in their meat plants and the safety of their ready-to-eat meat products.
In addition to regular inspection services, all provincially licensed meat plants are periodically audited. A plant may be audited more often if it produces a high-risk product or has received an unsatisfactory rating. Provincially licensed abattoirs and freestanding meat plants are audited to verify their compliance with the food safety requirements outlined in the Meat Regulation. The Compliance Verification Program, administered by OMAF's Food Inspection Branch, uses veterinary experts and a third-party auditing service for food safety audits.
OMAF uses a rating system similar to that used by several jurisdictions for rating restaurant compliance with food safety requirements. There are three possible audit ratings:
- "Pass" means the plant meets or exceeds regulatory requirements and can operate as a licensed meat plant.
- A "Conditional Pass" means 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.
- A plant that receives a "Fail" rating cannot operate and its license is suspended.
Immediately after an on-site audit the auditor holds an exit meeting with plant management, provides a summary of observations and highlights deficiencies. An OMAF manager meets plant management after the exit meeting to establish completion dates for any identified deficiencies.
The plant operator must ensure that all corrective action is completed by the due date. Compliance is monitored by OMAF meat inspection staff.
When it comes to meat plants, the primary purpose of the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001 (FSQA) is to provide standards for the safe, humane slaughter of healthy food animals and the processing of meat products in an environment that manages and minimizes the health and food safety risks to the consumer.
A meat plant operator's responsibility is to produce safe food. To do so, meat plant staff must comply with the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001 and its regulations.
When a meat plant operation is not in compliance, OMAF staff follow a progressive compliance protocol. A progressive approach may include:
- educating the operator about food safety requirements,
- establishing mutually agreed upon timelines with operators to address deficiencies,
- a verbal warning,
- issuing a warning letter outlining clear expectations,
- stopping production at a plant for up to 24 hours,
- placing products under detention so they cannot be transported or sold,
- issuing a Compliance Order with specific conditions,
- suspending the license to operate if the non-compliance is believed to be an immediate or serious threat to the health and/or safety of the public, any person or any animal, or there is a pattern of non-compliance that indicates a serious risk exists.
- Suspension may lead to a hearing.
OMAF is committed to ensuring meat plant operators are treated with professionalism, objectivity and respect. There may be instances when a meat plant operator feels his or her concerns are not being addressed satisfactorily. OMAF has a process in place to assist them.
If an operator has concerns related to an inspector's approach, or does not understand why an inspector asked for specific changes, operators can contact an OMAF area manager. Subsequently, operators can contact a regional manager.
As outlined in the Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001, plant operators can request a hearing about the status of their license or the disposition of detained meat products. An adjudicator decides, based on factual evidence and the legislative and regulatory requirements, what action should be taken. Hearing decisions are posted on OMAF's website for 30 days. An operator may request a hearing with respect to any regulatory issue. Operators can appeal hearing decisions to the Agriculture and Food Appeal Tribunal.
The Regulator's Code of Practice for provincial inspection, investigation and enforcement staff includes four service standards and seven elements of professionalism. For the full Code of Conduct meat inspection staff follow please visit www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/inspection/code-profess.htm.
For more information you can visit ontario.ca/meatinspection.
For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300