This summer I had an internship at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with the Fish Department in Mississauga. I worked with one other intern who I shadowed the inspectors with. We were a great team and we learned a lot together about the food industry and food safety! I did a lot of data entry to invoice Fish Import Notifications (how adorable that the acronym is FIN which is what we would call them) as well as a lot of filing of the invoices, inspection reports and food complaints. That was the boring stuff, but the cool stuff consisted of activities like can inspections, believe me when I say to check the seal of your cans at the supermarket. We would cut down the cans vertically and inspect the seal overlap under a microscope in order to determine whether the can lot would pass or fail the inspection. That’s potentially a big income loss to the importer! If it fails, then the whole lot (could be thousands of dollars) must be either exported out of the country or destroyed. In the case of a destruction, an inspector must witness it and sign that it has been completed properly. Destructions include throwing the product into a dumpster, but in the case of an expensive product, in order to prevent an importer from picking the product out from the dumpster after the inspector leaves, blue dye is poured on the product to make it unable to be distributed/sold.
An imported product could also fail inspection by not passing the net weight test. This is simple, if the net weight on our scale is less than the weight stated on the packaging then your product fails. Importers try to get away with net weight fraud, for example adding more ice to the frozen shrimp or fish hoping to include that extra weight as “100g of fresh shrimp!” when really it’s “50g of fresh shrimp with 50g of fresh ice but we’re gonna label it as 100g of fresh shrimp!” How we tested this was melting the ice away and then weighing the product on our scale.
Another test was performing sensory inspections on the product. I don’t know if you can guess what that means, but it involved sticking your nose right into fish guts and raw oysters etc. and in bad cases, rotting flesh and mold. Ew.
The best part about the summer was the Pilot Project that the other intern and I were a part of. Basically, it was a study being performed by a researcher at the University of Guelph on species identification fraud in Canada. He would identify the species of the fresh and frozen fish that we sampled through a process called DNA barcoding. At the same time, he was also expanding the catalogue for the DNA of Life Barcodes. Our project was starting off in the GTA at retailers and importers collecting the fish samples and delivering them to the researcher’s lab in Guelph. He is currently writing a paper about his findings and the percent of mislabeled fish species, whether it be an innocent or an intentional mistake. Hopefully my name appears on it!
I learned a lot about the food industry and where our food comes from. It was really invaluable experiences and memories, what a great way to spend the summer. I thoroughly enjoyed the people I worked with and the networking for my future career. I’m hoping to be able to return next summer or at least something similar. Especially as a Biology major, this is a great reference for future jobs and career opportunities. Next summer I was interested in working at the CFIA labs, molecularly learning about our food and contaminants.