Food Handling Certificate: An Industry Must-Have

Food Handling Certificate- An Industry Must-HaveEvery year, around 4 million Canadians fall victim to food borne illness. Signs of sickness may set in right away – or take weeks to show themselves. And symptoms range from abdominal pain and vomiting, to disorientation, organ failure, and if untreated even death.

With so much of our food undergoing extensive transport, processing, and handling, it makes sense that food safety training would be of the utmost concern to health officials, producers, and consumers. In 2006, Toronto city council passed a Food Handler by-law that makes it necessary for owner/operators of food establishments to have at least one supervisor with the Food Handling Certificate on-site at all times.

Focusing on prevention as the best weapon against contamination, officials increasingly seek to standardize best practices, emphasizing the importance of education and respect for public health.

Who Needs Certification?

The City of Toronto says that the Food Handling Certificate is required anywhere food is prepared, processed, served, packaged or stored. So, that means restaurants, factories, and distribution centers – but it also encompasses food trucks owners, assistants, and even drivers. When inspectors arrive to perform routine investigations, the Food Handling Certificate must be presented, and be up-to-date.

What Inspectors Look For

In addition to looking out for the appropriate food safety certificate, inspectors will examine every aspect of food prep, storage, and sanitation that happens at on-site. They will also evaluate the physical space – walls, ceiling, ventilation and lighting systems. Inspectors take note of problems like missing tiles or peeling paint close to where food is being prepared.

A food safety inspection will also focus on the cleanliness of preparatory surfaces and equipment, whether cold storage is kept at safe temperatures, and whether employees demonstrate effective sanitation habits – like wearing hairnets, removing jewellery, and washing hands frequently. The Food Handling Certificate covers all of these elements of safety (including others), so owners and employees know exactly what to expect during an inspection.

What Causes a Shut-Down

Despite attempts to regulate food processing and handling with training and strict guidelines, inspection agencies like Toronto’s DineSafe must occasionally shut down non-compliant businesses. But it doesn’t happen all that often. Across Toronto, a total of 29,188 inspections were conducted in 2012, and out of all of these, only 38 resulted in temporary closures. It’s more typical for inspectors to give out conditional passes – a warning that allows proprietors time to rectify transgressions and undergo a follow-up inspection.

When shut-downs do happen, they are a result of “crucial” infractions. According to DineSafe, these include:

  • no hot or cold running water where food is prepared
  • a rodent or pest infestation that has not been controlled
  • Inadequate refrigeration
  • Sewage back-up
  • Lack of safe potable water
  • Food contaminated or adulterated

A “red card” or shut-down means that the business has utterly failed to meet even basic food safety certification protocols. At that point, the city may refer the establishment to a tribunal, which could revoke its licence and close its doors for good.

Given the low number of shut-downs – and the high number of food poisoning incidents – do you think Toronto is hard enough on businesses that show weaknesses in food safety?


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