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Nowhere to Hide

Every week, Dine Safe Peel publishes on the Dine Safe website a list of foodservice establishments that have been closed, or issued conditional warnings of closure, and the violations that have been cited.

Inspection results identify restaurants, cocktail bars/beverage rooms, bakeries and QSRs across Brampton and Mississauga, Ont. deemed by Peel Health Inspectors to be in violation of the Ontario Food Premises Regulations.

Violators run the gamut from independent bakeries, food court operators, and franchise restaurants, to independent ethnic restaurants. The element that violators have in common is a breakdown in the processes and procedures that ensure food safety.

In a world of open social networks, there’s nowhere to hide from the downside risks of violating health codes and/or consumers being affected by foodborne illness. Thus, concern for safety needs to permeate the business culture of all operators working with food.

The Pareto Principle

The vast majority of food safety violations fall into the following problem categories commonly identified in foodservice inspections. Roughly 80% of the food handling practices leading to foodborne illnesses are covered by five specific breakdowns (Exhibit 1 pg 48):

  1. Keeping hot/cold food at correct temperatures
  2. Proper handwashing practices
  3. Food contact surfaces protected from contamination
  4. Sanitation plan and
    cleaning schedule
  5. Dishwasher procedures

Root causes

Pam Mandarino, an environmental health officer in Vancouver, conducted an extensive food safety study (2017) which analyzed inspection report data on temporary restaurant closures and food handling violations in British Columbia. The study cross-referenced findings of similar studies conducted in the U.S. 

Mandarino concluded that multiple factors, and not just food safety knowledge, affect safe food handling practices. 

Below are some of the factors she found that influence safe food preparation practices:

  • Time pressures
  • Manager indifference toward proper food safety practices
  • Food safety certification and food safety training
  • Inadequate food handler knowledge 
  • Poorly designed kitchen facilities and insufficient standard operating procedures 

Stop food problems before they begin

Proactive attention to food safety practices and processes is your best bet to circumvent a food safety crisis. That being said, having an action plan in place to address a crisis (Exhibit 2 pg 48), isolate the causes, and map a recovery path (Exhibit 3 pg 48) can forestall devastating outcomes.

Gathering storm

Very shortly, decisions regarding food safety will no longer be discretionary. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently announced the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), a major piece of legislation that will come into force on January 15, 2019. The core aim of the SFCR legislation is to require food suppliers, importers/exporters, and foodservice operators to mandate preventability and to improve traceability – not an insignificant ask, given that the majority of the food we consume in Canada comes from abroad.

MYTHS AND TRUTHS ABOUT FOOD POISONING

NOT TRUE

A food with enough pathogens to make you sick will look, smell or taste bad.

Really fresh food cannot make people sick.

Only dirty kitchens can make people sick.

Properly cooked food can never cause food poisoning.

TRUE

A food with enough pathogens to make you sick will look, smell or taste good.

Really fresh food can cause food poisoning if it is not properly handled.

Even clean kitchens can make people sick.

Food poisoning can occur even when foods are properly cooked.

Lawrence Goodridge, Associate Professor and Director of the Food Safety and Quality Program in the Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry Department at McGill University, feels that SFCR does not go far enough. He compares the traditional “surveillance” approach to food safety to predicting the weather: Each of us checks the weather each day, yet no individual feels strongly that their specific observations can accurately predict what will happen.

Recently, smartphone apps are being engaged to cumulate user weather observations and their geo-locations. Feeding this data into artificial intelligence algorithms promises to create more accurate meta-reports on local weather patterns in real time. 

Imagine now that food safety was tracked in a similarly proactive fashion. Responses on foodborne outbreaks could be identified very early on, via smartphone, by individual consumers, leading to faster removal of contaminated food from the food chain. In the United States, New York City and Chicago are piloting this approach to tracing sources of food contamination.

Pick your motto

The motto at the bottom of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) emblem is Fides Publica, Integritas, Scientia. This translates roughly to Protection, Integrity, Science, and summarizes its mandate, values, and scientific foundation.

Looking for a food safety mission statement for your foodservice organization? Consider the motto of the security agency of The Netherlands, the Dutch version of CSIS: Security through Foresight. Or there’s always the somewhat fictionalized NASA tagline from the movie Apollo 13 - Failure is not an option.

 

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