Food Recalls - What Processors Should Know

Despite best efforts to produce safe food, a product recall may occur. The best way to be ready for a recall is to have a program in place for your facility.

On this page you can learn about triggers for a recall, recall classifications, preparing for a recall and managing a recall. You will also find related links.


Triggers for a recall

A food recall is the intentional removal of a product from the market when there are reasons to believe it may be a potential hazard for the consumer.

Some potential hazards are:

  • Biological hazards such as the presence of pathogens (e.g., Listeria monocytogenes in ready- to-eat meat)
  • Chemical hazards such as undeclared allergens (e.g., peanuts in granola bars)
  • Physical hazards (e.g., metal fragments in ground meat)

Recalls are triggered by different issues including:

  • Microbial, chemical or physical analysis of the product (e.g., Escherichia coli O157:H7 presence on beef burgers)
  • Consumer or customer complaints
  • International or other government agency referrals
  • Critical process deficiencies found during inspections (e.g., milk pasteurization performed under inadequate time or temperature)
  • Deficiencies on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) found during inspections (e.g., a serious sanitation problem, excessive use of nitrates on meat products)
  • Information from an ingredient and/or packaging suppliers

Recall classifications

  • Class I: A situation where serious adverse health consequences or death may result if the product is consumed (e.g., pathogenic bacteria in ready-to-eat products may lead to a recall class I).
  • Class II: A situation where a health hazard possibly exists but the probability is remote (e.g., presence of small traces of undeclared allergens may lead to a recall class II).
  • Class III: A situation where the consumption of the product is not likely to cause any health problems (e.g., severe quality issues) on a product may lead to a recall class III).

Preparing for a recall

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has developed a manufacturers' guide to help food processors develop a recall program.

Companies must be prepared to handle a recall in an efficient manner so they can prevent outbreaks and illness. A properly designed program could reduce the effects of the recall on the market and protect the company and its brand.

An effective recall program has 10 basic elements:

  1. Recall management team
  2. Complaint file
  3. Recall contact list
  4. Tracing system of raw ingredients, packaging materials and finished products
  5. Product amounts
  6. Distribution records and distribution record system
  7. Recalled product records
  8. Recall procedures
  9. Recall effectiveness procedures
  10. Regular updating and testing of the recall plan

Managing a recall

If your company has produced and sold unsafe products you must recall the products. Notify the local CFIA Office and provide specific information about the product. The CFIA will use this information to classify the recall and develop a risk management strategy to remove all hazardous products from store shelves.

Information required for a recall:

  • A detailed description of the problem
  • The name, brand, size, lot code(s) affected
  • Details of complaints received and any reported illnesses
  • The distribution of the product, local and national
  • Specific dates the product was distributed
  • Label(s) of the product(s) being recalled
  • The total quantity of product manufactured and distributed
  • The name of your firm's contact with the CFIA
  • The name and telephone number(s) for your firm's after-hours contact

When the product poses a serious health risk (Class I recall), the CFIA issues a public warning posted as Food Recall/Allergy Alerts.

To receive information about food products being recalled, subscribe to CFIA food recall warnings.

For more information email the Food Safety and Inspection Branch or call 204-795-8418 in Winnipeg.