Victory for RCC Grocery Retailers – New Brunswick Changes Food Premises Regulation to Allow ‘Best Before’ LabellingPrint
New Brunswick Health Protection Branch passed a regulation in 2009 requiring that product packaged in-store, with a shelf-life of ninety days or less, must be labelled with a “Packaged On” reference (as opposed to the familiar “Best Before” information). This regulation is not consistent with regulations in other jurisdictions or industry best practices.
New Brunswick regulations should reflect the national approach by recognizing “best before” labelling.
After eighteen months of advocacy from Retail Council of Canada (RCC), the New Brunswick government will accept dating on retail foods that meet Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requirements. This allows the use of “best before” labelling. The government did not change the regulation but it has changed its interpretation of the regulation by allowing Class four (no wholesale) and five (wholesale) food premises to meet CFIA requirements and/or the existing provincial regulation.
This regulation was passed in 2009 without the knowledge of industry or even of food inspectors working for the province. In 2013, food inspectors discovered the existence of this regulation and began to enforce it.
RCC successfully advocated for government to suspend enforcement of this labelling regulation while working with the Department of Health on a more permanent solution.
RCC explained to government that in the interest of food safety and harmonization between provinces, national and regional grocery retailers have long followed the labelling rules put in place by CFIA. These requirements allow retailers the choice of using either ‘Packaged On’ or ‘Best Before’ labels for products packaged in-store with a shelf life of ninety days or less.
RCC noted that enforcement of the New Brunswick regulation would be costly to grocery retailers as it would require the retailers to label products differently in New Brunswick. For most grocery retailers, labels are produced on a regional or national basis and sent to the retail stores. This allows cost savings but requires harmonization in labelling regulations between provinces.
RCC also noted that many grocery retail customers prefer ‘Best Before’ labelling as it provides them with better information about the product they purchased after they bring it home and put it in the refrigerator.
RCC provided the government with a copy of the “Retail Guidance Document-Pathogen Control (including Listeria monocytogenes) in Ready to Eat Refrigerated Foods”. This document is based on science and industry collaboration and was developed by Health Canada and Retail Council of Canada’s Food Safety Committee. It sets limits for the durable life of most store prepared perishable products to a maximum of three days, unless reference can be provided to scientific literature / experimental data, historical knowledge, operating conditions data or mathematical modelling that can demonstrate the adequacy of the control measure.
This document demonstrates that industry practices negate the need for “packaged on” labelling and that the current “best before” system should be maintained.
RCC worked with the Minister of Health’s office to examine ways to fix this problem without opening up the Public Health Act. Engaging in an extensive review of the Public Health Act would have been difficult and time consuming and thus, the Department decided to take a more expedient approach by adapting its interpretation of Section 25(4) of the Food Premises Regulation in the Public Health Act. This change in interpretation was communicated to RCC in writing and thus, RCC is confident that this new interpretation will supercede any potential misunderstanding of the regulation by a food inspector.
If the Department of Health decides to engage in the onerous process of amending the Public Health Act, RCC will follow up with staff from the Department of Health to see if there is a willingness to change the actual wording of Section 25(4) of the Food Premises Regulation in the Public Health Act. A change in the wording would make it clear to food inspectors that it is permissible for grocery retailers in New Brunswick to use ‘Best Before’ labelling for in store wrapped / packaged foods.
If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact: Jim Cormier, Director (Atlantic) at: [email protected] or 902-422-4144