Fresh Facts for Consumers

COVID-19 Information on Produce for Consumers

Scientific evidence currently shows no indication that COVID-19 is a foodborne illness. Evidence does, however, show that the virus can be transmitted via contact (with an infected person, surface or object) or droplets (from and infected individual coughing, sneezing or talking). CPMA highly encourages all consumers to thoroughly consult the resources offered below. It is critical to follow verified, fact-based guidance during these times. Please remain vigilant in your daily food safety practices including washing your hands before and after handling food, washing your fruits and vegetables before preparation, and regularly cleaning all surfaces that may come in contact with food.

Food Safety

Food safety, personal hygiene and equipment cleaning should always be top of mind when handling food. This is particularly true in the case of fresh fruits and vegetables, where it is common practice to consume products that are raw or minimally processed.

Government of Canada Resources for Food Safety

Health Canada’s website provides consumers with information on how to shop for, handle, store and prepare your produce, and all food, in a responsible manner. They also provide information for employees of produce sellers on personal hygiene and equipment procedures to help reduce risks for the consumer

Health Canada Links

Government of Canada COVID-19 Resources

United States Government Updates

Experts in the United States state there is no evidence to suggest any threat to food safety. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have now included relevant statements in their FAQs (FDA / USDA). The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are coordinating responses where possible.

Statement from the CDC Website

Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be spread through food, including refrigerated or frozen food?

“Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. Throughout the day wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom.

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.”

Learn what is known by the CDC about the spread of COVID-19.

Resources from the European Union (EU)

Buy Local

Canadians love their fruits and veggies, consuming more than 50 billion servings of fresh produce annually.

With one of the safest food supplies in the world and a wide variety of produce items available to consumers throughout the year, Canadians are privileged to have access to a multitude of fresh, healthy and nutritious produce items from a variety of geographic sources. Despite the interest in exciting and delicious new exotic varieties of produce, and despite the overwhelming Canadian interest in more traditional varieties year-round, there has been a heightened consumer interest in and desire for locally-grown produce. This interest has been complicated by an inconsistent interpretation of what is meant by the term “local,” as well as some misunderstanding around how the end-consumer may benefit by purchasing and consuming local produce.

What does local mean?

Any claims on labels and advertisements of foods sold in Canada must be in compliance with the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, which prohibit false and misleading information. To facilitate compliance, CFIA has developed an interpretation policy on using the term “local.”

Under the previous policy, the CFIA interpreted the terms "local", "locally grown", or any similar term to mean that:

  • the food originated within a 50 km radius of the place where it was sold, or
  • the food sold originated within the same local government unit (e.g. municipality) or adjacent government unit

The CFIA recognizes that this approach is outdated and does not reflect current food production practices or consumer needs and expectations.

It is important to note that claims such as “local” are voluntary and industry are encouraged to add qualifiers such as the name of a city to provide consumers with additional information. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the regulated party to comply with applicable legislation and regulations.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is undertaking an initiative to modernize its food labeling approach and with input from consumers, industry and other stakeholders, will conduct a review of food labelling regulations, guidelines and policies including claims such as use of the term "local".

In the interim, the CFIA is adopting an interim policy which recognizes "local" as:

  • food produced in the province or territory in which it is sold, or
  • food sold across provincial borders within 50 km of the originating province or territory

This interim policy has been implemented and will remain in effect until the CFIA’s labelling review is complete.

More information is available here: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/other-requirements/claims-and-statements/local-food-claims/eng/1368135927256/1368136146333

Inconsistent interpretation in common usage

Irrespective of the existing government definition, there is not always a consistent application of the term “local” in everyday usage. The following are different ways that the term “local” might be used to describe fresh produce but may not be part of the currently acceptable claims, as defined by CFIA (above):

  1. “Local” might be used to indicate that the item originated from within a given distance radius before reaching the point of purchase (e.g. a 50-km radius, a 100-mile radius).
  2. “Local” might be used to indicate that the item originated from within a particular production area, and is being offered for sale in that same region (e.g. Niagara Peninsula, Annapolis Valley, Okanagan Region).
  3. “Local” might be used to indicate that the item originated from within the same province (e.g. anywhere in Ontario) or country (e.g. anywhere in Canada) as the point of purchase.

Why all produce isn’t local

As indicated above Canadians consume over 50 billion servings of fresh produce annually. Variety, quality, price and access are key and therefore local Canadian production, though an integral part of the domestic marketplace, cannot meet this demand alone.  Canadians are able to enjoy over 400 different types of fresh fruits and vegetables from over 150 different countries throughout the year and we export Canadian-grown fresh produce, adding to the variety available to consumers in countries around the world.

  1. Supply limited by climate and weather. In Canada, the fresh fruit and vegetable supply is limited by a short growing season, a limited number of fertile growing regions and unpredictable weather patterns. Some varieties simply cannot grow here at all.
  2. Canadians demand variety, best quality, best price...all year round. Canadians have come to expect the same selection of affordable, quality fresh produce throughout the year at their supermarkets and grocery stores, regardless of season or weather patterns in Canada. Access to a global market means Canadians have the opportunity to try new and exciting exotic and tropical varieties from around the world. It also means that consumers can access different varieties that are reflective of many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

What factors should be considered when deciding to buy local product?

The decision to purchase local produce is a personal decision that could be based on philosophical reasons like value-economics or the desire to support local community viability. When local varieties are in season, consumers have the opportunity to purchase these fruits and vegetables as close as possible to the harvesting source, while at the same time supporting local businesses. Consumers should buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown using recognized food safety standards, regardless of the source of their produce, local or other.

What factors should not be considered in making this decision?

Despite heightened media attention, the decision to buy local produce should not be motivated by concerns over food safety or sustainability.

  • Local as a regional designation/shopping decision should not be confused with “safer”. Regardless of the source of the product, strict regulations mean that fresh produce sold in Canada, whether local, domestic or imported, is both safe and nutritious and should continue to be consumed as part of a healthy and balanced diet, as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Local should not be confused with more sustainable, or better for the environment. The green/carbon footprint issue is a highly complex one with many factors. The overall distance to the point of sale is not the only contributing factor in determining carbon footprint – production methodology and storage techniques also have different emissions that need to be considered. No single factor can be isolated in determining carbon footprint.

When at the store or market, how can consumers tell where the item really came from?          

When shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, consumers who are confused at the point of purchase about what “local” means should ask the staff at the vendor or retail outlet for clarification on the origin of the products. Country of origin information is mandatory for imported fresh produce and is available at the store level either on packages or on the information made available for bulk product.  Canadian content claims may be used on product produced in Canada.

What other considerations should be kept in mind?

Regardless of the geographic source of fresh produce, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the Canadian Cancer Society, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada and Canada’s Food Guide recommend eating the suggested number of servings of fruits and vegetables every day.  See http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/basics-base/quantit-eng.php or visit www.cpma.ca or www.halfyourplate.ca  for more information, tips and recipes.

Irradiation

Food irradiation is a food safety and preservation technology, similar to pasteurization. While pasteurization uses heat to kill microorganisms, irradiation uses a form of energy called ionizing radiation. The process involves exposing food, either in bulk or packaged, for a specified amount of time to gamma rays, X-rays, or electron beam radiation. The effects of irradiation on food, animals and people eating irradiated food, have been studied extensively. Irradiation has been shown to be a safe and effective tool that can help to prevent many food borne diseases.

Why is it important?

Food irradiation has several benefits:

  • It reduces the potential for food related illness  by reducing the level of bacteria and parasites  that contaminate food and cause food borne illness
  • It increases shelf life by slowing down the ripening or sprouting of certain fruits and vegetables
  • It presents an effective treatment for post-harvest damage by destroying bacteria, molds and yeast which cause food to spoil, and control insect and parasite infestation

The effect of irradiation processing on food has been investigated more thoroughly than any other food technology.  The irradiation process produces very little chemical change in food, and does not change the nutritional value of food. Extensive research and testing has demonstrated that irradiated food is safe and wholesome.

While irradiation kills most of the microorganisms present in food, it does not necessarily sterilize the food. As with all foods, appropriate precautions such as refrigeration, and proper handling and cooking must still be taken.

What You Need to Know

Only foods approved for irradiation can be sold in Canada. The current list includes onions, potatoes, wheat, flour, whole wheat flour, whole and ground spices, and dehydrated seasonings. .  The Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada is responsible for the regulations specifying which foods may be irradiated and the treatment levels permitted. For a complete list of approved foods, contact Health Canada.

Canadian regulations require that all packaged foods processed by irradiation be labelled with the international symbol for irradiation and a statement that the product has been irradiated.   The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for the enforcement of regulations related to the labelling of irradiated food products.

CPMA Contacts and Other Resources

For more information, please contact CPMA at question@cpma.ca or use the following resources.

Pesticides

As Canadians, we are increasingly health conscious and paying greater attention to diet, exercise, and preventative medicine. A growing recognition of the nutritional attributes of fruits and vegetables has resulted in rapidly-increasing consumption of fresh produce.

Media reports on the issue of pesticide residues in food may cause fear and uncertainty, but the health benefits of increased consumption of fruit and vegetables outweigh the potential risk of ingesting pesticide residues.

Why is it Important?

Pesticides play a vital role in protecting our food and crops from invading weeds, insects and disease. Pesticides must be used within the guidelines of good agricultural practices, which consider the needs of environmental quality and human health, as well as agricultural stability and effective pest management.

What You Need to Know

Few people realize that pesticides must undergo a rigorous regulatory evaluation process by the Canadian Government before being allowed for use. The proper use of pesticides is monitored through federal government evaluation programs which include residue testing.

Health Canada has the authority, under the Food and Drugs Act, for ensuring that all foods are fit for human consumption, meaning that all foods are safe, clean and unadulterated. For pesticides, this responsibility involves, for example, determining the safety and quantity of a pesticide residue that may be present in foods.

Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) holds the responsibility for providing safe access to pest management tools, while minimizing risks to human and environmental health.

An extensive list of studies is required from pesticide manufacturers to determine the nature and extent of any health risk posed by a pest control product proposed for use in Canada, and scientific data on the environmental impact of a pesticide is required to support its registration in Canada.

Pesticide residue limits are established and lifetime exposures to chemicals and dietary habits of infants, children, pregnant women, and older people are accounted for in the assessment process and reviewed on a regular basis, or when new information suggests re-evaluation should be conducted.  For more information on pesticide residues and the “Dirty Dozen list”, please visit the Alliance for Food and Farming website.

The pesticide approval process used in Canada is one of the toughest in the world and meets or exceeds the health standards established by the World Health Organization.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for monitoring and enforcing agricultural and industrial chemical residues in foods produced locally or imported from foreign countries. In addition, the PMRA conducts residue monitoring as part of its program to determine if pesticide manufacturers and end-users (producers) are meeting the conditions of registration.

Canadians should feel confident in our government’s oversight of our food supply and continue to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables , as recommended in Canada’s Food Guide.

Resources

Protective Coatings

Protective edible coatings and waxes are often applied to fruits and vegetables post-harvest, as a method of preservation. Protective coatings have been in use since the 12th Century in China. However it was not until 1922 that the waxing of produce was invented and the first commercial applications of edible coatings were applied to produce.

Fresh fruits and vegetables that may be coated with protective coatings include:

·       Apples·       Avocados·       Cherries·       Grapefruit

·       Lemons

·       Limes

·       Melons

·       Nectarines

  • Oranges
  • Passion Fruit
  • Lychee Fruit
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Bell Peppers
  • Field Cucumbers
  • Eggplants
  • Parsnips
  • Pumpkins
  • Rutabagas
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips

Why is it Important?
As fruits and vegetables grow they develop a natural coating called a cuticle which is like a waxy layer. Once produce is harvested, it is sent to a packing house where it is often washed, a process which removes the cuticle. To replace this cuticle a protective coating may be applied to some produce.

Protective edible coatings help to slow dehydration and decay while retaining moisture and increasing shelf life. They may also improve appearance by offering an attractive sheen.

What You Need to Know?

There are numerous types of protective coatings that can be used on fresh fruits and vegetables. Components of all fruit and vegetable coatings must comply with Canadian regulations and be acceptable for use in Canada.

Waxes are indigestible and will pass through the body without breaking down or being absorbed. If you choose not to eat a protective coating, even though it is safe to do so, buy un-waxed produce or peel the fruit or vegetable.  Wax is not water-soluble and does not wash off. Waxes may turn white on the surface of produce if they have been subjected to excessive heat and/or moisture. This affects only the appearance of the produce but it does not affect the quality or safety of the food.

Priority allergens* are a consideration when using protective coatings.  Amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations prescribing enhanced labelling requirements for food allergen, gluten sources and sulphites were published in the Canada Gazette, Part II on February 16, 2011. The new food allergen labelling regulations came into force on August 4, 2012.

The regulatory amendments enhance the labelling of prepackaged products by requiring mandatory declaration of the sources of common food allergens and gluten when they are present in a prepackaged product. They also require the declaration of added sulphites if they are present in a prepackaged product in a total amount of 10 parts per million (ppm) or more (all previous requirements for declaring sulphites as components that require declaration stand). These declarations are required to appear on the label of the product:

  • using names as prescribed in the new regulations
  • either in the list of ingredients or at the end of the ingredient list in a statement that begins with the word "Contains"

In addition, the common names for starches, modified starches, hydrolyzed plant protein and lecithin must be shown to provide information regarding the source from which these ingredients are derived (for example, wheat starch).

*In Canada, the ten (10) priority food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts (includes almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts), sesame seeds, milk, eggs, fish (including crustaceans and shellfish), soy, wheat and triticale, mustard seeds and sulphites.

** Gluten sources will need to be declared when a food contains gluten protein, modified gluten protein, or gluten protein fractions from barley, oats, rye, triticale or wheat (or a hybridized strain of any of these cereals).

Other Resources

Biotechnology

"Biotechnology" means the application of science and engineering in the direct or indirect use of living organisms, or parts or products of living organisms, in their natural or modified forms. This term is very broad and includes the use of traditional or conventional breeding, as well as more modern techniques such as genetic engineering.* Biotechnology, specifically products that have been modified by genetic engineering (commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms, or GMO) provides opportunities and presents challenges and  allows for the development of new food products through a variety of scientific tools and techniques.**  Food biotechnology has the ability to address hunger and malnutrition issues, improve crop yields and reduce chemical usage.

The benefits of food biotechnology may include:

  • Increased crop productivity through the introduction of novel traits including herbicide tolerance, pest and disease resistance.
  • Prolonging shelf-life of foods[i]
  • Additional benefits may include: food without allergens; fruit & vegetables with enhanced nutrition, better taste, cold tolerance where plants are developed to tolerate cold temperatures and withstand unexpected frost which could destroy seedlings, resistance to harsh environments (e.g. drought, salt resistance) and more, as the technology evolves.

Overall, biotechnology seeks to improve the quality and quantity of the food supply.

What You Need To Know
In Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) share the responsibilities for the safety of novel foods developed using agricultural biotechnology.

  • Before a product is approved in Canada, both Health Canada and the CFIA determine the safety or potential risks to human, plant and animal health, and the environment. The organization applying for approval collects the data for the government's team of scientific experts who also consider other relevant information, such as peer-reviewed publications. All assessments are performed on a case-by-case basis, and only products judged to be as safe as their traditional counterparts, are approved. A list of currently approved novel foods is available at the following website: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/gmf-agm/appro/index_e.html
  • Responsibility for food labelling is shared by Health Canada and CFIA. Mandatory labelling for foods, including foods derived from biotechnology, could be required to highlight a significant nutritional or compositional change, or where there are health or safety concerns that could be mitigated through labelling such as the introduction of an allergen. Voluntary labelling is permitted in order to provide consumers with information that is not related to the safety of the product.

CPMA Contacts and Other Resources
For more information, please contact CPMA at question@cpma.ca, or use the following resources:

[i] Uzogara SG. (2000). The impact of genetic modification of human foods in the 21st century: A review. Biotechnology Advances. 18:179-206.

Organics

Why is it important?

 The Canadian General Standards Board and the Organic sector have developed national standards for organic production systems, which are reviewed every five years.  The Canadian Organic Standards outline the approved production processes and permitted substances for organic production and processing in Canada. These standards are incorporated by reference in the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) and are available at the following links:

A national organic standard for organic agriculture in Canada provides a consistent framework for organic producers to use to assist with growing and marketing their products.  Having clear and consistent methodologies reduces confusion and increases the national credibility of organic production systems.

Under the SFCR, any food, seed, or animal feed that is labelled organic is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). These regulations define the requirements for the certification and marketing of organic products, both imported and domestic, including specific requirements for organic products to be labelled as organic or that bear the Canada Organic Logo. All products must be certified as organic according to the Canadian Organic Standards.

The Canada Organic Regime (COR) is designed to build on the existing system of domestic accreditation and certification and was developed to:

  • Protect consumers against misleading or deceptive labelling practices;
  • Reduce consumer confusion about the definition of organic;
  • Facilitate the access of Canadian organic products to foreign markets that require regulatory oversight; and
  • Support further development of the domestic market.

Provinces that have regulations concerning organic produce may have additional labelling requirements.  In many cases, retail stores have an organic fresh produce section so that consumers who wish to purchase organic fresh produce can do so easily.

An effective and supportive organic framework provides opportunities for farmers, wholesalers and retailers to provide consumers with certified organic fresh produce.  It increases credibility, decreases confusion and enhances market opportunities.

What you need to know

Organically grown and conventionally grown fresh fruits and vegetables are equally safe and nutritious. Fresh fruits and vegetables produced by each growing method still must comply with all of Canada’s food safety and nutritional laws. This applies to both imported and domestic produce.

Many people are not aware that organic production methods can include the use of permitted fertilizers and pesticides.  Organic production systems use approved, registered botanical pesticides, such as pyrethrum.  Pyrethrum is an insecticide which originates from chrysanthemum flowers.  Fertilizers, (usually referred to as soil amendments), range from composted organic manure to non-synthetic amino acids to calcium sulphate.

For more information on pesticide residues and the “Dirty Dozen list”, please visit the Alliance for Food and Farming website.

There has been much discussion in the media concerning the taste and nutritive value of organic products versus conventional products.  For fresh produce some studies find differences in the sensory properties (taste, texture, acceptability, etc.) of organic produce while others do not.  In the end, it is up to individual perception and taste.

As with flavour, many factors influence the nutrient content of produce. The nutrient content of produce can vary due to plant variety, growing conditions, post-harvest distribution, storage and preparation methods.   Extensive literature reviews to date have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally produced foods. It is the overall nutrient content and variety of the diet that are important to healthy eating and not the composition of individual foods.

Overall, increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, whether organic or conventionally grown, is the most important factor for individual health.

CPMA Contact and Other Resources

For more information, please contact Shannon Sommerauer at ssommerauer@cpma.ca or use the following resources:

Food Safety

Canadians are fortunate to have one of the safest food supplies in the world, with a wide variety of fresh produce items available year-round. Food safety is a vital part of the production of all foods, including fresh produce, and it is an important issue for Canadians. Food safety is a shared responsibility between government, industry and consumers.

Government

  • Health Canada sets policies and standards governing the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada.
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) verifies that industry is meeting federal food safety and regulatory requirements, including the labelling requirements for food allergens, and sets standards to detect and prevent risks to Canada's food supply. The CFIA samples and tests food for pathogens and residues (including agricultural chemicals such as pesticides). When levels pose a risk to Canadians, immediate actions are taken to recall or seize the product.
  • Health Canada, the CFIA and the Public Health Agency of Canada work together to prevent or to respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness.

Industry

  • The produce industry takes food safety very seriously; food safety programs, have been developed by the produce industry for food operations to minimize the risk of product contamination and foodborne illness.
  • Food safety programs are enhanced by traceability components that quickly identify sources of contamination, unsafe handling, and other risk factors so that product can be quickly identified in the event of a recall or product withdrawal

Consumers

  • Learning how to prepare and handle food with care is essential to ensuring our food is safe to eat.
  • To learn more about the four easy lessons of CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, and CHILL and how they can help prevent harmful bacteria from making your family sick please visit the Be Food Safe webpage of the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education

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