Notice to readers:
This report deals with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department of Health and Alberta Health Services responsibilities for food safety in the province. In 2013 a review was released about the beef recall that occurred at XL Foods Inc.’s plant at Brooks, Alberta, between September and October 2012. The federal government is responsible for inspecting this facility. Accordingly, the processes used to regulate this facility are outside the scope of our follow-up audit.
History of the audit
In 2006, we made 10 recommendations relating to food safety in Alberta. We recommended that:
- Alberta Health Services (AHS, formerly regional health authorities) improve its food inspection programs and issue permits in compliance with legislation
- AHS and the Department of Health3 make wider use of tools to promote food safety and improve their information systems
- the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development administer its food safety surveillance program better, improve its inspection and investigation programs and improve its information systems
- the departments of Health and Agriculture and Rural Development develop better accountability for food safety
- Health, Agriculture and Rural Development and AHS improve their integrated food safety planning and eliminate gaps in food safety coverage in Alberta
In 2009, we followed up on our original audit. Two of the recommendations were implemented, leaving eight recommendations outstanding.
What we examined
In this audit, we followed up on the eight outstanding recommendations relating to food safety programs at AHS, Health and Agriculture and Rural Development. We focused on how they monitor food safety practices for food production, what information systems they use, and how they cooperate with each other and report on their results.
What we found
We have concluded that six more of the original ten recommendations have been implemented. AHS has improved its food establishment inspection programs and made them more uniform across the province.
Cooperation between organizations and between federal–provincial regulators has improved. Agriculture and Rural Development has improved its surveillance and information system management processes.
What needs to be done
Two recommendations remain outstanding:
- Health needs to develop a strategic plan to demonstrate the effectiveness of its food safety program in Alberta. As well, the two departments must integrate their strategies to ensure a coordinated and effective approach to food safety. The outcomes of the integrated strategies need to be reported to Albertans.
- AHS and Agriculture and Rural Development need to consistently apply the province’s meat facility standards in their inspections of food establishments.
Why this is important to Albertans
Food safety is essential to good public health. To trust that the food we eat is safe, Albertans need to know that good food safety systems are in place and working. These systems require sharing scientific knowledge and monitoring physical conditions at all stages of food production, from meat packing plants to restaurants. For this complex system to succeed, federal and provincial departments, AHS, and the departments of Health and Agriculture and Rural Development must all work well together.