Food Safety Systems at the Meat Plant

In this section:

Dotted ArrowPrerequisite Programs and HACCP Plans
Dotted ArrowSlaughter Processes
Dotted ArrowFabrication and Packing Processes
Dotted ArrowMicrobiological Controls

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Prerequisite Programs and HACCP Plans

Canada’s food safety systems for meat plants are based on the internationally recognized Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) model. A complete HACCP system is mandatory for all federally inspected meat plants, and requires both prerequisite programs as well as HACCP plans. Prerequisite programs are general procedures or good manufacturing practices (GMPs) that enhance food safety for all meat production processes. HACCP plans build on the foundation provided by the prerequisite programs and are designed specifically for each production process.

flow diagram, HACCP Prerequisite Program

Critical Control Points

HACCP plans function through the use of critical control points (CCPs) which are monitored by specially trained employees to control potential food safety risks. CCPs are determined by conducting a comprehensive analysis of possible biological, physical or chemical hazards associated with each step in a meat production process and for all ingredients and packaging.

Audits by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency

All meat products and suppliers of meat ingredients as well as cold storage and freezer facilities must have a HACCP system. To ensure the HACCP system is functioning correctly, each operation is audited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Food Safety is the most important priority

Canada is committed to the ongoing enhancement of its food safety systems through a partnership between industry and government. The development of HACCP food safety systems is an additional requirement beyond traditional meat inspection programs. The focus of HACCP is the prevention of food borne illness, which continues to be the most important objective of the Canadian beef industry.

More than 95% of Canadian and U.S. retail and food service meat professionals surveyed prefer to purchase beef from establishments that have full HACCP food safety systems.
flow diagram, HACCP Food Safety System
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Slaughter Processes

Live Animal Inspection

Under Canadian law, each animal must undergo antemortem (before slaughter) screening by trained operators to detect potential illness or injury. CFIA personnel then conduct a detailed assessment of any animal showing evidence of disease. Cattle not meeting animal health requirements are identified, segregated, and excluded from meat production.

Stunning Procedures

Healthy animals are stunned in a humane manner using only methods approved by the CFIA. Stunning techniques involving air injection or pithing that could result in the contamination of blood with neurological tissue are prohibited by law.

Carcass Identification

Following the removal of the hide, it is a requirement under the Health of Animals Regulation that the animal ID tag be attached to the carcass to maintain its unique identity. The head is also tagged before separation from the carcass and prepared for inspection by the CFIA.

Inspection of the Head, Viscera and Carcass

Following postmortem inspection of the head, the tongue and cheek meat are removed from healthy animals and all specified risk materials are disposed of in a container used exclusively for this purpose.

Thoracic and abdominal viscera, including lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract are also inspected. Approved offals are removed for chilling and packaging after removal of the distal ileum, as required under Canada’s BSE controls.

The carcass is split and a careful inspection of the external and internal surfaces of the split carcass is made by trained personnel.

Spinal Cord Removal

Removal of the spinal cord by an approved method, such as the use of a high power vacuum device, is required by law. Application of the Meat Hygiene Legend to the carcass occurs only after removal of the spinal cord and successful completion of all postmortem inspection procedures.

Trimming, Washing and Chilling

Following trimming, the carcass is subjected to one or more washing steps. Due to its ability to effectively reduce any bacteria on meat surfaces, carcasses typically undergo a brief exposure to steam or hot water. Carcasses are then chilled and microbiological testing can be used to verify the effectiveness of the HACCP plan for cattle slaughter.

flow diagram of Slaughter Process
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Fabrication and Packing Processes

CFIA Approved and Audited HACCP Plans

The development of HACCP food safety plans for fabrication and packaging processes are required of all federally inspected establishments producing beef products. These plans must be audited and approved by the CFIA using the procedures outlined in Canada’s Food Safety Enhancement Program (FSEP).

Temperature Control and Sanitation Requirements

There are strict requirements for temperature control and sanitation. Each facility is required to have a written Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP) which must be approved by the CFIA and verified through microbiological or other types of laboratory testing. Monitoring of the temperatures of room air, carcasses and finished cuts is conducted throughout the day, as required by each operation’s HACCP system.

Finished Product Inspection

In addition to meat hygiene controls utilized throughout the production process, inspection of finished products is undertaken to monitor the quality and safety of the beef before packaging. This is performed by quality control personnel and by the CFIA. The inspection process operates by utilizing a lot sampling procedure where corrective actions must be taken for the entire lot if the randomly selected sample is found to contain physical, chemical or biological hazards which would impact food safety.

Packaging Process and Materials

Packaging processes for finished beef products utilize only packaging materials and equipment approved by the CFIA. Fresh beef products are typically exported in vacuum packaging with very low oxygen transmission rates because of the ability of this technology to reduce the growth of bacteria which would cause premature spoilage.


All shipping procedures are performed in accordance with the establishment's prerequisite program for transport. Beef products are loaded into temperature regulated vehicles for shipping. Temperature data recorder devices are utilized as required to record the conditions of transport until arrival. Optimal temperature control maximizes both shelf-life and food safety of beef products.

flow diagram of Fabrication and Packing Processes

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Microbiological Controls

Multiple interventions which are approved by the CFIA are utilized by Canadian processors to control microbiological hazards such as E. coli O157:H7.

Food Safety SystemsFood Safety Systems
All HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) systems for ground beef production are reviewed by the CFIA and must demonstrate specific measures to address E. coli O157:H7.

Antimicrobial InterventionsAntimicrobial Interventions
Canada's meat processors are utilizing a number of antimicrobial treatments designed to inactivate bacteria which may be present on beef. These treatments include pasteurizing the surface of the carcass with steam or hot water and the application of organic acid.

Temperature MonitoringTemperature Monitoring
Canada's Meat Inspection Act requires that beef be stored at temperatures of 4°C (or lower). Microbes such as E. coli O157:H7 are adapted for growth in warm-blooded animals and cannot reproduce on meat maintained at refrigeration temperatures.

Test and Hold ProductionTest and Hold Production
The development of rapid and increasingly sensitive E. coli O157:H7 culture methods have allowed manufacturers to test ingredients for ground beef production. Test and hold systems can significantly reduce the need to recall product.

E. coli O157:H7 DNA TestingE. coli O157:H7 DNA Testing
Health Canada studies the genetic patterns of E. coli O157:H7 obtained from DNA testing performed in federal and provincial laboratories. This electronic network assists scientists and physicians in determining if any reports of E. coli O157:H7-related illness are isolated or potentially part of a larger outbreak.