Canada is a big food importing country, with 40% of its food products sold being imported from foreign countries. At the time when overseas’ food safety scandals constantly send shock waves across the globe, Canadian consumers rely on the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure food safety for Canadians and to safeguard the Canadian supermarkets. But tainted imported food products sold in a Canadian store have sparked public concerns.
In January of this year, Mr. Chen bought a bag of roasted eel from Foody Mart, a Chinese supermarket on Steeles. Chen and his wife, after taking a few bites of the food, felt sick. After taking a thorough look at the product, they were shocked to find that the roasted eel had gone moldy.
Chen took the moldy eel to Toronto public health (TPH), which took pictures of the food. Chen also notified the store manager. When TPH attempted to inspect the supermarket the next day, the products had already been removed from shelves.
“The supermarket admitted that the product was sold from the store. They (roasted eels) were immediately removed from the shelf and returned to the supplier,” a spokesperson from TPH told Chinese News.
The products were imported from China by a company in Toronto. The owner of the company does not deny it was the supplier of the products, and told Chinese News that the products have all been destroyed and they will never be sent to the store in future.
After identifying that the moldy products were imported from BoHai, China, TPH notified the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Chen’s illness had led him and his wife to visit the doctor who put them on medication. But half a year later, Chen who has recovered from the illness, says the incident still haunts him and has shattered his confidence over the safety of food products sold in Canada.
“Coming from China, a country that has a notorious track record for food safety, I had trusted the safety of Canadian food products. I can’t believe that moldy food would appear on the shelves of Canadian supermarkets,” says Chen.
The safety of imported food from China has always been of great concern for local Canadians. Chen’s experience may strike the nerve of many consumers, and his concerns may resonate with many Chinese Canadians. Chinese News published several articles over the past interviewing CFIA on safety of imported food from China. The national food safety watchdog told Chinese News repeatedly that it works with the Chinese government to ensure that imported food products meet Canadian safety requirements.
“All food products imported from China must comply with the Canadian food safety requirements, as well as packaging and labeling regulations,” wrote CFIA media spokesperson in an earlier email to Chinese News. “Testing results show the compliance to Canadian safety standards has been high.”
The CFIA has stringent inspection rules and regulations in place to ensure foreign imported food products meet its food safety standards. Its’ regulations require importers to maintain track record of 100% compliance. According to CFIA rules on importers, a non-compliance record may result in importers becoming target of inspections and to face higher compliance requirements, and for repeated offenders, even enforcement actions.
Given the rules and regulations in place, why did the CFIA fail to detect the problematic food products at the border? According to the CFIA, the products got into Canada with an invalid import license, which “resulted in the CFIA not being properly informed of the importer's activity.”
But that answer seems unable to satisfy consumers or pull the government agency out of the mud. CFIA rules require importers hold a valid import license to bring products into Canada and any shipments not accompanied by a valid license number will be refused entry or detained. If the importer didn’t hold a valid license, how did the tainted roast eel get sneaked across the Canadian border and make its way to supermarket shelves?
“It is quite difficult to speculate at this time why this product was not refused or detained at the border,” the CFIA answered in an email to Chinese News.
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