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Empower to protect: Recalls & safety alerts in Canada

Did you hear about the recent berries recall or the Kinder one in April?

They have been issued by the Recalls and Safety Alerts (RSA) team!

A team dedicated to bringing you some peace of mind when it comes to the ‘safety’ of products you (and millions of people in Canada) consume daily.

One of the key ways the Government of Canada works to protect your health and safety is by regulating the products you use and consume daily. Everything from food, health products, medical equipment, consumer products, vehicles, and cannabis.

If these products become unsafe (for any reason), regulatory groups at various departments play a vital role in notifying the public. Together, they help keep people in Canada updated and safe by posting the information online, via the RSA website.

It’s clear that public services can help many people better inform themselves on the products they consume. Improving this service improves people’s ability to protect themselves, as Eric Chouinard on the RSA team shares in his interview below!

How GC Notify improved Health Canada’s RSA service

Back in November of 2021, Health Canada launched a new Recalls and Safety Alerts (RSA) website that completely overhauled the previous site, improving it to have many new features.

A helpful new feature for the public is the RSA subscription service. It uses GC Notify, a notification tool designed by CDS for GC public servants, that enables the public to sign up to receive email notifications when a recall or safety alert is posted online.

People can also customize their notifications by:

  • Setting their language preference; English or French.
  • Choosing how often to receive notifications; once a day or in real time.
  • Selecting which products to receive notifications for.

Interviewing Eric Chouinard, Project Manager on the RSA team

To learn more about how our GC Notify tool empowered the RSA team to set up a subscription notification service to better protect the public, we sat down with Eric Chouinard, Project Manager for the RSA Service at Health Canada.

Photo of Eric Chouinard, Project Manager on the RSA team, Health Canada Photo of Eric Chouinard, Project Manager on the RSA team, Health Canada

Q1: What are the benefits of RSA’s new subscription feature?

Enabling product selection for notifications

The subscription feature allows you to receive direct notifications about any type of consumer, food, medical, or health products that are the subject of a recall, safety alert, and/or advisory.

This is a huge improvement as it allows visitors to sign up to one tool and get notifications about multiple types of products regulated by different departments and agencies. You can specify the product type(s) that you are interested in or simply receive all notices. This is especially useful if you have food allergies or if you’re a parent who wants to make sure the food and consumer products that you purchase for your family are safe. I’m a parent myself and appreciate that extra bit of protection.

A recent example is the public advisory RSA sent out for infant formula shortages, that Health Canada tweeted guidance for. Together, regulatory groups at various departments are helping keep people in Canada safe by providing updates online.

Providing frequency options for notifications

Subscribers have the option to receive immediate notifications (once they’re posted to the website) or a single, daily notification, depending on subscription preferences. This enables subscribers to get relevant notifications, tailored to their needs, right to their email inbox.

RSAs are reaching many and growing!

The RSA notification system uses the GC Notify tool to send out emails to subscribers. As of June 2022, there are more than 40 000 subscribers receiving notifications from the RSA system. To date, the system has generated a click-through rate (CTR) of over 15%, more than triple the government average for email links. So it’s clear people are wanting this recall and safety information!

Screenshot of the email subscription page for RSA. It shows the language preference and frequency options and lists selections for product alerts. Screenshot of the email subscription page for RSA. It shows the language preference and frequency options and lists selections for product alerts.

Q2: How has GC Notify improved the way your team serves the public?

Getting time-sensitive alerts out quicker

GC Notify made it easy for our project team to use an off-the-shelf Government of Canada system to send timely, accessible, and bilingual notifications to the public.

In the past, posting recalls to our website and issuing a recall notification could take 1 to 2 hours, and only some programs had notification tools. Now, it can take as little as 15-25 minutes to create a notification and activating the subscription notification is as easy as checking off a box.

Not only can we send notifications about new recalls, safety alerts, and advisories, but we can also send notifications about updated recalls and alerts!

Improved user experiences

This was my first experience using and creating an account for GC Notify. I found it to be very user friendly and secure. It includes a two-factor authentication function, which is necessary for this type of system. Our vendor made the Drupal module we used to integrate GC Notify publicly available, so any government department can use it!

Increasing the reach of notifications

The more channels that we can use to communicate with people, and the easier it is to send out notifications, the better.

When Health Canada and our partners post a recall, safety alert, or advisory, they will typically send the information out via official social media channels. These messages aren’t tailored to people’s needs and not all people who need the info are on socials/following those accounts. The email subscription service empowers people with an additional channel to get this info. Now, people without socials can get tailored updates.

Performance statistics: Since the RSA service launched in November 2021, there have been 3.5 million visitors to our website, creating over 6.5 million page views!

Screenshot of RSA’s ‘Messages sent’ dashboard for GC Notify. From 2021 to 2022, they’ve sent over a million emails, significantly increasing in April, 2022. Screenshot of RSA’s ‘Messages sent’ dashboard for GC Notify. From 2021 to 2022, they’ve sent over a million emails, significantly increasing in April, 2022.

Q3: Can you tell us a little bit about how and when you ended up working on this project?

I was looking for an opportunity to work on an agile IT project that would provide me with the chance to work with a dedicated team of professionals on something that has a meaningful impact for people in Canada.

RSA service timeline

My predecessors initially began this project in 2018, with many talented colleagues and partners setting the foundation for the work my team has carried on. When I began work on the project in 2020, we were on the cusp of finalizing our contract with our IT vendor, in order to begin the development work. My supervisor, David Gotlieb, had been instrumental in the project’s later stages, as well as contracting for the vendor.

We began the development of the new CMS and website in January 2021 and hit the ground running. By November 2021, we launched the new CMS and new website. Since then, we’ve been improving, refining, and adding new features that continue to enhance the end-user experience (both on the CMS and public-facing website), including the notifications subscription service powered by GC Notify.

As the project enters its next development phases, the project team, our executive team, and our partners are looking forward to continuing to build on our successes and plan for the future of the RSA service CMS and website.

Giving credit where it’s due

We worked and collaborated with our colleagues at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), and Transport Canada (TC) to align our information management systems. It has been a great experience.

Their collaboration has helped us develop a recalls and safety alerts CMS tool that enables partners to:

  • Maximize efficiency;
  • Reduce processing times; and
  • Send information out to people in Canada as efficiently and quickly as possible.

Also, our information technology vendor on the project, OpenPlus, has been instrumental in helping us achieve our technical goals. Using an agile methodology, we’ve been able to accomplish a significant amount of work in a short period of time.

Huge credit also goes to our executive team, led by Renée Couturier and Patrycja Arkuszewski, our Health Canada colleagues, and Government of Canada partners. It’s because of your support that we’ve been able to make this project a success!


Are you interested in receiving recall and safety alert notifications? Be sure to check out the RSA Website and subscribe!

Or are you a public servant interested in sending notifications faster and more securely?

Contact our GC Notify team for a demo to learn more information!