Overview

In Alberta, slaughter operations are either federally or provincially regulated. The Meat Inspection Act and Meat Inspection Regulation outline the requirements that all licence holders must meet, including assurances that meat and meat products are safe and that animals are handled humanely at slaughter.

In Alberta, there are 4 types of provincially-licensed meat slaughter operations, including inspected as well as uninspected operations.

Inspected operations include:

  • Red meat and poultry abattoirs and in some cases attached processing facilities.
  • Mobile butcher facilities – licensed facilities that further process
    • uninspected meat from an animal slaughtered by the licensed mobile butcher or
    • inspected meat from an animal slaughtered in an abattoir
  • Uninspected operations include:
    • Mobile butchers – licensed individuals that can slaughter a producers animal on the producer’s land for the producer’s consumption.
    • On-farm slaughter operations (OFSO) – licensed operations that enables an individual to conduct on-farm slaughter and processing activities on their property. Note: All meat resulting from slaughter under an OFSO is uninspected and selling uninspected meat remains illegal in Alberta.

Slaughter inspection

Any meat or meat product sold or distributed in Alberta must come from an inspected slaughter facility (abattoir) or processing facility. Inspectors conduct ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections and are on site any time inspected slaughter activities occur.

Inspectors are responsible for:

  • verifying pre-operational conditions of the facility every day slaughter occurs
  • monitoring employee hygiene practices, operational standards and potential hazards and take actions to minimize food safety risks in these areas (biological, chemical, physical, etc.)
  • documenting licensee compliance with legislative requirements outlined in the Meat Inspection Act and Regulation
  • collecting water samples for microbial testing, carcass and fecal sampling (surveillance) and meat product sampling
  • following up on corrective actions from observed deficiencies during an inspection

Ante-mortem inspection

Within 24 hours of slaughter, inspectors conduct an ante mortem inspection (screening) of all animals/flocks. Ante mortem inspections occur before an animal is slaughtered. Ante-mortem inspections are performed on animals/flocks:

  • that show evidence that the animal(s) have not been handled properly or humanely
  • that show evidence of or affected with a disease or condition that causes the carcass, or its meat products to be unfit for human consumption
  • that may have been treated with an antibiotic or other chemical agent that may result in a contaminated carcass
  • with disease conditions that may show no visible changes in the carcass (e.g., rabies)
  • with conditions that lead to problems (e.g., manure on hide, visibly abscessed) during the slaughtering and dressing procedures and result in heavily contaminated carcasses during the evisceration step
  • suspected of having a reportable disease or a foreign animal disease

Unhealthy or even slightly abnormal animals are identified and are either:

  • segregated for separate slaughter and special inspection, or
  • not allowed to enter the human food chain

To make these decisions, trained inspectors draw on their understanding of meat inspection techniques, food safety risks, good manufacturing practices and applicable legislative requirements.

Licensees are required to meet requirements to assure that all livestock are handled and treated humanely.

Post-mortem inspection

Post-mortem inspection covers the inspection of carcasses and the parts of meat and poultry that are used for human food.

It takes place after the animal or poultry has been slaughtered. Post-mortem inspection covers the steps in the slaughter process that begin at stunning and ends at the step where the carcass is placed in the cooler.

The purpose of post-mortem inspection is to protect the public health of Albertans. Post-mortem ensures that food safety practices are adhered to on the slaughter floor and that the carcasses and parts entering the coolers are wholesome, fit for human consumption and un-adulterated.

Trained inspection staff perform inspections, make regulatory decisions, document findings and take enforcement actions when appropriate. These activities are guided by provincial regulations, directives and notices.

Meat inspectors can, if necessary, consult the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian if they require veterinary advice or if there is doubt whether a carcass is to be approved for human consumption or condemned. If necessary, a carcass will be held pending consultation or laboratory analysis. Condemned carcasses are disposed of in accordance with the Disposal of Dead Animals Regulation.

Surveillance

Each year, Albertans and Canadians become ill from the foods they eat. Investigating food-borne illness outbreaks can be complex. To help establish priorities to control and prevent food borne outbreaks, the Alberta government uses food safety monitoring, also known as surveillance. Food safety surveillance collects data that can be used to:

  • identify food safety risks
  • establish priorities for controlling and preventing food pathogen contamination
  • conduct risk assessment and risk management activities for different contaminants in foods

Meat inspectors and inspection specialists collect samples (meat and fecal) from carcasses for various provincial and federal surveillance programs and food safety projects such as E. coli O157:H7 monitoring and poultry monitoring.

Surveillance is an important tool to help public health and food safety authorities to be able to respond quickly, efficiently and effectively to help protect the public from food borne outbreaks.

Processing inspections

Up to 3 unannounced processing inspections are conducted in provincially licensed meat facilities each year to help ensure food safety and compliance with regulatory monitoring. During these inspections, all aspects related to the food safety systems and the facility are evaluated, providing a comprehensive overview of each facility’s processing operations.

Inspectors assure that operators have developed and implemented programs that meet the requirements of legislation and assure food safety.

Inspectors provide reports to the operators that identify areas where improvements can be made. Inspectors work closely with licensees to develop a plan and timelines to address any issues that are identified.

Table 1. Processing inspection rates for Alberta government licensed meat facilities year-over-year comparison, April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021

Inspection period Facilities operating Inspections conducted % Facilities inspected
April to  July 99 90 90.9
August to November 106 99 93.4
December to  March 109 102 93.6
Processing inspection completion rate for the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year 92.6

Table notes: Each fiscal year is split into 3 inspection periods. The table above describes the number of provincially-licensed meat facilities operating during a particular inspection period and the number of processing inspections conducted.

  • A total of 291 processing inspections were conducted at 109 provincially-licensed meat facilities during the 2020/21 fiscal year.
  • Not all facilities are in operation for the entire year; for the 2020/2021 fiscal year, there were 99 to 109 facilities in operation during each inspection period.

Alberta’s Meat and Dairy Inspection staff make every effort to complete 3 inspections per year, one in each inspection period; 2 of these inspections are unannounced and one is announced.

In some cases, the unannounced inspections are not possible because provincially-licensed meat facilities conduct processing activities on varying schedules based on their business models. Some businesses operate daily, some only a few processing days per year, some only during specific times of the year (seasonally). Other businesses begin or cease operations during the course of a year. During the 2019/2020 fiscal year, one announced inspection was cancelled by the operator of the meat facility due to unforeseen circumstances and the inspection could not be rescheduled. Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic planned inspections were cancelled or unable to be carried out as a result of provincial restrictions in place.

The number of processing inspection that were conducted at the facilities ranged from 90 to 102, depending on the inspection period (Table 1). Overall, 92.6 % of all possible inspections were completed in 2020/2021. Thirteen (13) out of a possible 291 inspections were not completed as a result of the facility not operating when meat and dairy inspection staff arrived to conduct random processing inspections. By comparison, the inspection completion rate was 90% for Fiscal Year 2018/19 and 91% for Fiscal Year 2019/20 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Processing inspection completion rate at Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development licensed meat facilities, fiscal year comparison

Graph of Processing inspection completion rate at Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development-licensed meat facilities, fiscal year comparison

In addition to processing inspections, AFRED conducted 6,705 slaughter inspections in the 2020/2021 fiscal year. Slaughter inspections are scheduled with an abattoir operator in advance to ensure an AFRED Meat Inspector is present each time a facility performs slaughter activities, in accordance with regulations.

Resources

Contact

Connect with the Meat and Dairy Inspection Team:
Email: [email protected]

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