Greenbelt Fund Local Food Solutions -- Volume 14

Product: Meat Regulations

To no one’s surprise, food service operations in the Broader Public Sector (BPS) purchase a lot of meat products. In fact, the category of meat products often constitutes the largest food spend within the BPS after dairy and value added entrées, such as shepherd’s pie, lasagna,  and macaroni and cheese. Given the amount of money that is spent on meat products in the BPS, it would seem that Ontario’s livestock farmers and independent meat processors would be keen to become a supplier for this market. However, to date it has been difficult for the province’s smaller processors to tap into it.

In Canada, there are strict regulations in place to ensure that the meats we eat are safe. All livestock must be slaughtered and processed in facilities that are either provincially or federally licensed. Provincially licensed facilities are inspected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs and can only sell products within Ontario. Federally registered plants, on the other hand, are inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspectors, and can sell products anywhere within Canada and internationally.

Both provincial and federal meat inspection systems are solidly founded in the commitment to food safety. Each system has strict food safety control measures in place, such as sanitation procedures, production practices, and record keeping.

Despite this shared focus on food safety, a common perception in the food service world is that meats from federally inspected processing plants are safer than meats from provincially inspected plants. This makes it difficult for provincial processors of local meats to enter the BPS. The reality is that there are similarities and differences between provincial and federal systems, but one is not necessarily safer than the other. In both cases there are strict guidelines and inspection practices in place to ensure that products coming from processing plants are safe for consumption.

Most national food distributors that serve the BPS prefer to list products from federally inspected processors. This is because these processors have the volume and consistency in supply that distributors prefer. In fact, the CFIA estimates that only five per cent of meat is slaughtered and processed in provincially inspected plants. The ratio is slightly higher in Ontario, where 10 per cent of livestock is processed in provincial facilities.

Barrier

The perception that meats from provincially inspected plants are less safe than meats from a federally registered plant make it difficult for some local products to enter the BPS.

Progress Being Made

  • One of the largest universities in Ontario purchases fresh and frozen beef products from two local suppliers that use provincially licensed abattoirs to process animals. These products are sold in both catering and retail foodservice outlets on campus.
  • A local cattle farmer and provincial processor sells a series of health-care appropriate pre-cooked meats to hospitals and long-term care homes in southern Ontario.
  • A local pork and livestock processor sells roasts and cured meat products to several long-term care homes in southern Ontario
  • Some provincial suppliers have been successful in gaining entry to the healthcare BPS market by providing products with higher protein density than their competitors. This allows the food service operators to serve smaller portions because the nutritional value per gram is higher.

Some Solutions

  • It is important to know that food safety is a major priority for BPS foodservices. Suppliers of meat products from provincially inspected plants should be thorough in outlining their food safety plans.
  • Relationships between BPS suppliers and purchasers are important. If you are trying to sell provincial meat products to the BPS, take the time to meet the people you will be dealing with and address any questions or concerns they may have.
  • Quality and nutrition are important factors for purchasers in the BPS. If not on price, smaller processors can compete with larger suppliers on their product quality and nutritional value.
  • Work with Ontario’s major distributors to become a vendor. Many distributors state they do not source products from provincially inspected facilities, but this is often not an official policy. As long as there is a satisfactory food safety plan in place, they should be willing to work with you. To increase your chances of getting your products listed, get customers in the BPS to ask their distributor to carry your products.
  • The BPS has many different types of food service departments and operations. Some departments have higher risk management standards and tighter budgets than others. In a hospital, for example, it is far easier to purchase  local meat products for catering operations than for patient food services.
  • Use your small scale and nimbleness to your advantage by offering to customize products to meet the needs of the BPS. 

Follow @ontariofresh on Twitter to join the conversation. 


This series is written with contributions from: Kathy Macpherson, Franco Naccarato, and Brendan Wylie-Toal.