Anyone who has experienced a bout of food poisoning thinks twice about where they eat out. They peek into kitchens, scan dining rooms for cleanliness, scrutinize how often food handlers wash their hands… But, the reality is that danger often lurks behind closed doors and from a consumer perspective, it can be difficult to see the contamination coming. According to Health Canada, up to 4 million people suffer from foodborne illnesses every year. A recent CBC Marketplace investigation looked at some of Canada’s most popular restaurant chains, examining just how careful the professionals are when it comes to protecting the health and safety of their loyal customers. The results raised serious concerns regarding regulation compliance and the food safety training of front-line employees.
Big names fail food safety test
The Marketplace review looked at several types of sanitation violations, including temperature and food storage issues, food handling and hand washing problems, pest control, and general kitchen cleanliness. The investigators visited many Canadian hotspots, such as Tim Hortons, Subway, Second Cup, and McDonalds. A Subway in Calgary was exposed for using contaminated cleaning cloths – a violation it had been written up for three times already. A Tim Hortons was cited on five previous occasions for an ongoing fly infestation. And in one restaurant, garbage was strewn all over the kitchen floor. Marketplace discovered that across the board, hand washing and general cleanliness – the basics of food safety certification – were neglected, opening the door for cross contamination and some very sick customers.
Demands for publicized inspection results
Across Toronto, consumers can check out a restaurant’s inspection results before making a reservation or stopping in for a bite. A portal called DineSafe makes diners aware of violations so they can make healthier choices. And since the average Canadian household spends $2000 a year dining out, city officials felt they had a right to full disclosure regarding the safety rating of their favourite eateries. Restaurants Canada, the group representing the restaurant industry, disagrees, saying public rating systems are misleading and could be bad for business. Many jurisdictions don’t make the results available online. But with 2 million Canadians falling sick from restaurant food every year, the pressure is on to increase inspection transparency.
What to look out for when dining out
Although some regions don’t publicize inspection results, the Marketplace investigation will make its own findings available online to better protect consumers. And in the meantime, the team offers its own informal food safety course on how to spot potential violations on our own. Before placing an order, we should watch out for:
- Sticky, dirty menus
- The smell of stale grease
- A bathroom without hot water, soap and paper towels
- Cutlery and glassware with smudges, fingerprints or encrusted food