Government Roles and Responsibilities for Food Safety in Ontario

All levels of government - federal, provincial and municipal - have distinct but interconnecting roles in maximizing food safety in Ontario.


The Federal Role:
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) administers and enforces all federal legislation related to food inspection, agricultural inputs and animal and plant health. The CFIA performs this role on behalf of Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The CFIA is responsible for inspecting and regulating federally registered establishments (generally those that move products across provincial or national boundaries).

The Provincial Role:
In Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) is responsible for the protection of public health. The ministry sets food safety standards and policies for food premises.
MOHLTC's role in food safety inspection is delegated to the province's 37 local public health units.

MOHLTC has broad powers to take action to protect public health, including the ability to:
- condemn food;
- issue tickets under the Provincial Offences Act;
- lay charges;
- order an establishment closed; and
- issue a recall.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food administers and enforces a number of provincial statutes designed to minimize food safety risks for the following:

- dairy farms, products and dairy processing plants (Milk Act);
- abattoirs, the slaughter of animals and primary processing of meat (Meat Inspection Act);
- horticulture products including fruit and vegetables, honey and maple products (Farm Products Grades and Sales Act);
- eggs and livestock (Livestock and Livestock Products Act);
- edible oil products;
- disposal of livestock mortalities (Dead Animal Disposal Act); and
- sale of livestock by auction (Livestock Community Sales Act).

In order to achieve compliance with its regulations, OMAF has the power to:

- suspend or revoke licences;
- detain products; and/or
- lay charges.

The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) provides investigative and prosecution services on behalf of OMAF through a co-operative agreement

MNR also has food safety responsibility for fish and fish plant inspection for products harvested and offered for sale in Ontario under the Fish Inspection Act. The Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001 (not yet in force) provides the authority for the legislative transfer of fish inspection to OMAF.

The Municipal Role:
MOHLTC's role in food safety inspection is delegated under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to the 37 boards of health located across Ontario. These health units are responsible for inspecting more than 80,000 food premises. Inspection is conducted based on risk - with higher risk operations receiving more inspections.

The Health Unit program responsibilities include:
- disseminating information concerning food safety to the community (general population, special events, schools, community groups, food banks etc);
- inspection of non-federally registered food processing plants, i.e. bakeries, food service, food retail establishments (including restaurants, nursing homes and hospitals) and free-standing meat processing facilities; and,
- responding to food-related complaints.

Foodborne illness outbreak response and food recalls

In the event of a foodborne illness outbreak in Ontario, the CFIA and Health Canada are involved through an Ontario Outbreak Investigation Coordinating Committee (OOICC) chaired by the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC).

Local public health units investigate any laboratory-confirmed illnesses within their jurisdiction.

MOHLTC can, through the Health Protection and Promotion Act, issue a food recall, but normally recalls are carried out by the CFIA.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300