A Comprehensive Guide to Importing Food |

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A Comprehensive Guide to Importing Food

Some of the trickiest items for importers to get across the Canadian border are food products — after all, they’re ripe with opportunities to imperil human health!

Improper packaging or supply chain delays can spoil items en route. Food advisories could fly under one’s radar. Lax suppliers might even forget to address potential hazards before your shipment ever gets out.

Aside from the sheer number of food commodity categories with their own slightly differentiated set of rules and regulations to consider, it’s important to think about all possible factors that could compromise your import before putting pen to paperwork.

Once you’ve developed a clear understanding of the product you intend to import, as well as the source from which you plan to obtain it, here’s what you’ll need to proceed.  

Get to Know the CFIA’s Requirement Categories

Importers need to satisfactorily address three specific sets of requirements laid out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to ensure compliance with their standards. Each set comes with either its own accompanying documentation or steps that must be fulfilled by law:

1.Food requirements

In this category, the goal is to ensure that the manufacturing, preparation, storage, packaging and labelling stages undergone by any foreign food items are completed without the risk for contamination, in accordance with the Safe Foods for Canadians Regulations (SFCR).

Your responsibility here is twofold. First, you’re required to collect information from your supplier to determine if their practices in the aforementioned five stages align with Canadian standards. Secondly, using the Government’s Industry Labelling Tool, you’re required to detect any false, misleading, or deceptive information your supplier is using, which would jeopardize their viability as an exporter to Canada.

2.Importer requirements

Here’s the big one for importers — you’ll need to be in possession of four specific items:

  • A Preventative Control Plan, which is a written document you’re required to create, implement and maintain, outlining how possible risks to any food or food animals you’re importing can be identified and controlled.
  • A complaints and recall procedure, which outlines how you plan to handle any issues raised as a direct result of your product in an efficient manner, as well as what you plan to do in the event that your product needs to be recalled.
  • An import license.
  • Traceability records, in order to keep a personal record of any products imported, their origins, on what dates they went through customs, etc.

3.Procedure requirements

In order to import food items into Canada, you must first notify both the CFIA and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). From there, once you have the aforementioned requirements in place, you will also need to provide both agencies with the standard permits we outlined in our last blog post about invoicing — specifically, the Bill of Lading, the Canada Customs Invoice and any other import permits requested.

In addition to these three sets of requirements and depending on the food category, your import could be subject to other SFCR regulations or separate acts (e.g., Food and Drug Regulations, Plant Protection Regulations, Meat Inspection Act, etc.). Thus, it’s key to consult the CFIA’s Guide Document Repository for more information on your specific item before acting.

Arriving at the Home Stretch

Assuming all goes well with compiling the necessary paperwork and your supply chain has fully equipped your import for several days of travel to the Canadian border, your shipment will soon end up in the awaiting hands of CBSA staff.

In this hypothetical scenario, let’s use a shipment of beef from the United States as an example. Meat, being the unforgivingly perishable item it is, is typically placed into a temperature-controlled environment, utilizing methods like cold shipping.

Once your beef reaches the border and is no longer chilling out in sub-zero temperatures, though, there’s no guarantee it won’t be held for inspection — so what happens in the hours, days or, potentially, weeks in between before it gets to you?

Luckily, if given prior notification by your supplier, the CBSA has the ability to store your imports in a warehouse for an extended period of time, while they remain under customs control.

There are three possible scenarios for storage placement:

  1. Sufferance warehouses: Usually, these private facilities are used by the CBSA to conduct inspections, but for a nominal fee, they can store your item for upwards of 40 days.
  2. Bonded warehouses: Items can stay here for a maximum of four years and duties aren’t collected until they officially enter into the Canadian economy. While at a bonded warehouse, your imports can also undergo value alterations such as packaging, quality control, labelling and more.
  3. Places of safekeeping: After 40 days at a sufferance warehouse, unclaimed items end up in safekeeping, at which point they have another 30 days to be claimed or exported before being handed over to the Government of Canada.

Keep a Good Import Situation From Going Bad

Do you need help trying to untangle the web of requirements needed to import a specific food item?

Are you worried about whether or not your perishables will survive the journey to Canada?

Is your supplier giving you all the information you require to ensure compliance?

Our customs brokers are here to help! Contact us today and we’ll make getting your food imports cleared a more palatable proposition.