More than just street meat

In a bid to divert attention from the lack of a June Stanley Cup parade in Toronto, councillor and city board of health chairman John Filion announced today that new food options will be available at street vendors throughout the GTA this summer.

Souvlaki, salsa karahi, jerk chicken and pad thai will be on the menu this May when the city of Toronto rolls out a street-food program to showcase the multicultural dishes of Canada’s biggest city.

[Filion] said the new street food, offered in addition to the familiar hot-dog stands on Toronto street corners, “will be healthy, personal, interesting and may introduce us to cultures we are not familiar with.”

The Globe article notes that carts will be visited by public health inspectors regularly.  Good.  But what’s more important is what happens when the inspectors aren’t around.

Operators must know (and care) about the risks associated with the products they sell, More complicated foods come with complicated preparation and handling steps.  Multiple raw ingredients need to be kept at the right temperature, operators have to avoid cross-contamination and, keep bacteria and viruses off of their hands. 

A program specific to the new types of permissible street foods should supplement these inspections, so vendors and public health inspectors can discuss potential issues well before the first pad thai is served. Allowing vendors to sell new foods with minimal facilities without providing resources to help them learn how to create them safely is a potential recipe for disaster.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.