What is CQA®?

How It All Began

Today, food producers, processors, marketers, consumers and the media are well educated and interested more than ever about food safety. The industry is therefore constantly challenged to provide assurances. In order to remain competitive, Canadian hog producers must have a system in place that provides them.

The food industry recognizes that every stage in the farm-to-fork chain needs to be controlled and monitored. Thus, HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) principles are being adopted throughout all stages of food production. Although HACCP was originally intended only for use only in food processing operations, it is now an internationally-recognized set of powerful principles for controlling food safety through all stages of food production. CQA® is based on HACCP.

Initially, a team of technical experts from the industry and government worked together to examine food safety issues and develop a workable solution—a rigorous quality assurance program for hog producers focusing on on-farm food safety. The committee’s first step was to recognize that an effective program should be based on knowledge of physical, chemical and biological hazards that can affect food safety.

Next, they developed a set of best practices for minimizing or eliminating hazards. The third step was to develop an appropriate program, which resulted in CQA®. It was launched in Canada officially on April 8, 1998.

The 2004 version of the CQA® program materials has been completely revised from the original program released in 1998. Over the years, selected changes have been made to the text of the program materials to address changes in the industry and clarify ideas that were found to present challenges; however, the 2004 program is the result of a complete review of the HACCP model and producer materials.

The Canadian federal government, through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), has established a system to formally recognize on-farm food safety programs, to ensure they are technically sound and delivered appropriately. CQA® has received its Letter of Completion from CFIA, which means the technical content of our program has been reviewed by government experts and has been found to be sound.


What is HACCP?

HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) is a set of preventative, scientific principles designed to achieve high food safety standards. It was originally developed to ensure the safety of NASA astronauts, but is now being adopted by the food industry worldwide. HACCP can be used in all segments of the food continuum and can be tailored to suit any product or process.

The Essence of HACCP

HACCP systems are structured around Critical Control Points (CCPs)—intended to control potential biological, chemical and physical hazards that pose food safety risks. Prevention is the fundamental principle of all HACCP programs. The application of HACCP to food production is recommended by Codex Alimentarious.

CQA® is based on the seven basic principles of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point):

  • Conduct a hazard analysis.
  • Identify the Critical Control Points (CCPs).
  • Establish limits that must be met to ensure that each CCP is under control.
  • Establish regularly scheduled observations/tests to monitor each CCP.
  • Establish what corrective action will be done if monitoring indicates a problem.
  • Verify that all CCPs in the system work correctly.
  • Establish effective record keeping procedures that document the HACCP system.

Prevention is the Key

The program is geared to the pre-processing, or production stage, of pork production. On-farm CQA® procedures are evaluated regularly, and the program is revisited and updated as changes are made. Essentially, producers following the program must meet a set of national standards. Detailed protocols and records must be kept to document the procedures.

CQA® Program Background


Development of the CQA® program began in 1995 when a team of technical experts from industry and government examined the potential for an on-farm food safety program. Initial documents were pilot-tested by producers to ensure the program was workable prior to its official release in 1998, and producers continue to play a critical role in program development.

Key Program Elements

The CQA® program is based on HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) principles. HACCP is an internationally-recognized, effective system of food safety control. The industry today recognizes that every stage in the producer-to-consumer chain needs to be controlled and monitored. Thus, HACCP principles are now being adopted on the farm.

Fundamental to HACCP is prevention. Potential food safety problems, and approaches to minimize their occurrence, are identified. Hazards are grouped as chemical (such as residue of veterinary products), biological (such as pathogens like salmonella), and physical (such as broken needles). Hazards are divided into those that can be controlled prior to production and those that are preventable during production.

While the CQA® program is built upon HACCP principles, it is considered to be “HACCP-based”. This is because the HACCP model was developed at the national level, for all hog producers, and hence is generic (producers do not need to conduct their own HACCP analysis). Once completed, producer materials were developed that translated the model into a workable on-farm program, identifying key food safety issues and describing appropriate control measures.

Producers on the program must keep accurate on-farm records and protocols, and have these reviewed by a program validator once a year. The farm facilities are examined by the validator on the initial visit, and every third year thereafter to ensure that program requirements are being met. Once the farm has met all the program standards, it can become CQA®-recognized.

CQA® is a rigorous program. However, many of the requirements involve things producers are doing already. CQA® is the best way producers can demonstrate their commitment to food safety in a tangible manner.

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