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Who, When and Why Does a Food Business Need a SFCR Licence?

Under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), certain food businesses are required to have a licence to conduct one or more activities. Currently, not all food businesses require a licence. Licensing helps CFIA to:

  • better identify food safety risks in order to target inspections
  • communicate important food safety information directly to food businesses
  • take enforcement actions, ranging from requiring corrective measures to suspending or cancelling a licence, when regulatory requirements are not met
  1. Who needs a licence?

Under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), food businesses need a licence based on the activities they conduct. In general, exemptions from the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations are made for food that is for personal use; is not intended for commercial use or consumption (e.g., intended for research); or is simply being transported. There are some further specification and exemptions, with #2 (below) noting specific food activities requiring a licence.

        The preventive control requirements in Part 4 of the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) apply to both operators and licence holders who import food. A key aspect of this is the application of a Preventive Controls Plan which is to include hazards identification, analysis, and control measures along with other requirements specific to their operations (See the SFCR Regulatory requirements: Preventive controls for more information.)

  1. Which food activity requires SFCA licence?

Food businesses that conduct any of the following activities are required to obtain a licence:

  • import food
  • manufacture, process, treat, preserve, grade, package, or label food to be exported or sent across provincial or territorial borders
  • export food that requires an export certificate – even if not preparing the food
  • slaughter food animals from which meat products are derived for export or to be sent across provincial or territorial borders
  • store and handle a meat product in its imported condition for inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

A business may choose to apply for one licence that covers all of its establishments, activities and types of food, or multiple licences that would cover unique combinations of establishments, activities and types of food. (For more information, see SFCR’s Activities Requiring a Licence.)

  1. What kind of SFCA licence is suitable for a particular food handling activity (raw material importing, manufacturing, repacking, exporting, storage and distribution)?

Following is a general overview of when a licence is needed or not needed. For more specifications, visit the SFCR Licencing Interactive Tool webpage.

  • Manufacturing, Processing, Treating, Preserving. Unless otherwise specified in Section 5: Sector-specific scenarios, a licence is needed to manufacture, process, treat, preserve food for export or interprovincial trade and to slaughter food animals for the meat products.
  • Grading. A licence is needed to grade a food for export or interprovincial trade, but not to grade fresh fruits or vegetables if they are only sold and consumed within the same province or territory.
  • Packaging. A licence is needed to package food for export or interprovincial trade, including placing foods in their initial package; placing one or more prepackaged foods in a secondary container that results in a consumer prepackaged food; transferring bulk food from one bulk container to another. It is not needed if only palletizing and/or shrink-wrapping food to facilitate safe movement or to place fully labelled prepackaged foods in a prepackage (except consumer prepackage) for shipping.
  • Labelling. A licence is needed to label or relabel food for export or interprovincial trade, but not to label a prepackage (except consumer prepackage), if it contains fully labelled prepackaged food, unless the prepackage requires an inspection legend.
  • Export. Licencing is only needed for export of food, additives or alcohol if you want/need a CFIA export certificate or other permission. However, if the food has been manufactured, processed, treated, preserved, graded, packaged or labelled in Canada, it is the exporter’s responsibility to ensure those activities were conducted by a licence holder. 
  • Fruit/Vegetable Harvesting. No licence is needed to grow or harvest fresh fruits or vegetables, unless they are packaged and labeled in the field.
  • Unprocessed Food. No licence is needed to package and label unprocessed food (listed in Schedule 1) for export or interprovincial conveyance if it will be manufactured, processed, or treated for use as grain, oil, pulse, sugar or beverage; has a label that bears the expression “For Further Preparation Only”/”pour conditionnement ultérieur seulement”; and is not a consumer prepackaged food, unless you are manufacturing, processing, treating or preserving it. 
  • Storage & Distribution. A licence is not needed to store food to be sent or conveyed from one province to another, or to send or convey food from one province to another.
  • Import.  A licence is needed to import food except food additives, alcoholic beverages, or unprocessed food set out in Schedule 1 [SFCR: 5(2)]
  1. How do you get a licence?

To apply for a licence, a business submits an application to CFIA providing activities for which the licence is being sought; location(s) of establishment(s) where the activities will be conducted; types of foods for which a licence is being sought; and attestation that they have preventive controls in place.

  1. How long does it take to get a licence?

With processing time beginning the day CFIA receives the complete application, the agency is “committed to achieving the following processing times at least 90% of the time under normal operational circumstances”:

  • Simple applications: 10 business days
  • Complex applications (require specialist review): May exceed 10 business days
  • Ministerial Exemptions for fresh fruits and vegetables: 2 business days
  • Ministerial Exemptions and Permissions to Move for processed products: 5 business days
  • Test Market Authorizations: 6 to 12 weeks
  • SFCR licence applications: 48 hours
  • SFCR licence applications that require pre-issuance verification: 70 business days

The processing time for the remaining 10% will vary based on the type of application submitted (level of risk or complexity), how long the business takes to respond to any requests or concerns; the volume of applications received; technical reviews or inspections; changes in CFIA policy and operations; and factors beyond its control.

  1. What else do I need to know about SFCR licensing?

      Some key points on SFCR licensing to note include:

  • US-based companies can hold an SFCR import licence and must meet all requirements including having a preventive control plan that can be audited by CFIA.  This eligibility does not apply to other countries at this time.
  • Companies with multiple facilities have the option to have one licence for all or a licence for each operation (Give us a call if you need assistance on this.)
  • Most licence applications will not require a pre-issuance inspection. However, if the operation is higher risk such as RTE, particularly for meat and fish, CFIA will likely wish to investigate before issuing a licence.

SFCR licencing can be complex based on the business’ activities and other specifications. We have provided links to a number of CFIA resources within the article, and TAG Canada can further assist. Should you need any assistance or have other questions, give us a call.


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