Module 3: Food Safety Regulations

Updated: Jan 6

The majority of food service operation across the globe are regulated by Federal, Provincial/State, Territorial and/or Municipal agencies.


The health and safety of people and the food or water supply is governed by federal agencies, departments and its affiliates. Using food inspection agencies, the government and other professionals within the industry developed codes and regulations to enforce food safety and safe food practices in foodservice and retail environments. If the codes are adopted by all states/provinces/territories, food safety regulations become widespread throughout the country. However, not all states/provinces/territories are required to follow federal codes or employ them across the board.


All provinces, territories, and states adopt their own regulations or laws regarding food preparation within food service operations. These regulations are often included in a legislation called an "Act". Regulations are created to define the acts and enforce standards and procedures that are mandatory. All mandatory regulations for your local area can be found in your province/state/territory's Public Health Act. Regulations of the province/territory or state allow local health departments to utilize inspection agencies and to enforce other legislature.

Local health units are departments of the government that specialize in enforcing health and safety regulations within food service operations. The health unit will inspect food operations regularly to make sure that all regulations are being followed by the food service operation. Some municipalities are also able to enforce by-laws that have food safety requirements, which differ from provincial/state/territorial regulations.


The public health inspector is an integral professional for food service and food retail operations. Public health inspectors or environmental health officers ensure that food is safe and that all municipal, territorial, provincial or federal food safety regulations are followed. Public health inspectors are specifically trained in sanitation, food safety and public health. Inspectors are also able to answer any questions regarding food safety or sanitation procedures, as well as give suggestions for improving the establishment's service to customers. The health inspector is not solely employed to reprimand establishments not properly following regulations, but to also offer information to help establishments function as safely as possible.

Inspectors are also part of the process of planning the opening of new food establishments or renovations to existing operations. Inspectors reserve the right to inspect operations to make sure that regulations are being practiced within establishments. Inspector are able to inspect operations at any sensible hour during the establishment's operating hours and are not required to notify owners or employees inspections in advance. During the health inspector's visit, they can test food and destroy it if it is considered unsafe or if certain regulations are not being followed by the establishment. If the inspector finds that an establishment is not performing according to proper food safety regulations, the following repercussions can occur: orders, tickets, court summons, removal of the permit, or permanent closure of the establishment. Compliance with food safety regulations is key to the success of the establishment.

Note: Do not offer food or beverages to the health inspector since they cannot accept any food or beverages whilst conducting an inspection, except for testing purposes.


Each province, territory or state has its own food safety regulations. The local municipality in question may also have its own regulations and standards for food service establishments as well. Regardless, most food safety and health inspections will involve the following general areas relating to food service within operations:

  • Buying food from approved sources

  • Food storage

  • Food handling (preparation, cooking, serving)

  • The handling of potentially hazardous foods

  • Maintenance (garbage, equipment, facility)

  • Personnel (facilities, clothing, health)

  • Hot and cold running water

  • Cleaning and sanitization

  • Pest control


In some operations, a visit from the local health inspector can be a stressful visit if the employees are not following proper food safety regulations. However, the Health inspector's role within the industry is to work with (not against) food service operations, its owners and employees, to make sure that the food itself and the food handling practices within the establishment are safe for consumers and the equipment, physical environment and food preparation/storage areas are also safe for employees. If a health inspector enters the building, your tasks as a cook are to:

  • Let a manager on shift that a health inspector has arrived.

  • Keep an upbeat and professional attitude when speaking with the health inspector.

  • Feel free to ask the health inspector any questions that you have to be able to fully understand any comments or concerns the inspector, yourself, the employees or the owners may have.

  • Collaborate with the inspector and answer all questions as truthfully as possible.

  • Provide any records, documentation, forms or samples at the inspector's request.

Health Inspectors are able to ask you to provide samples of food to test the items for bacteria. The inspector may also photograph or take a video of the item(s). As an employee within the establishment, it is your right to be able to ask why the health inspector is doing so.


If a customer complains of food poisoning from eating at your establishment, promptly contact a manager. If a manager is unavailable at the time to speak with the customer directly, write down the customer's name, telephone number, address, the number of individuals who ate at the establishment, what was ordered and consumed, and the date the customer ate at the establishment. Always take customer complaints and food poisoning situations seriously and do not try to provide the customer with any medical advice. Contact your local health unit and ask the customer to do contact them as well. The health unit will investigate the situation to find the origin of the food borne illness responsible for the customer's symptoms and can provide the customer with steps going forward.


Any food handlers working in a commercial food operation must have the knowledge, information and be adequately skilled in handling food safely and protecting the food and customers from contamination of any kind. Every employee within a food service operation is responsible for safe food handling and promoting a good food safety culture.

In many jurisdictions, it is a requirement that managers schedule at least one employee per shift who has an official safe food handling certification or other government approved food safety training certificate. If an employee is alone at any time during their shift within the establishment, for example, opening the kitchen alone prior to other staff starting their shift, it is often a requirement that they have a food handler's certification and training as well. Consult your local agency for more information regarding municipal regulations.

Food handler's certifications are often a requirement or considered a benefit in being hired at any commercial food operation. Many training courses for food safety and sanitation can be taken online to obtain certification. Most training certifications expire and need to be renewed every five years. The following are government approved by the Ministry of Health training providers available in Canada:

The following are ANSI accredited food handler's courses in the United States: