Toronto takes on feds, province, issues own food safety agenda

I hear from local public health officials all the time, and the ones in Canada repeatedly say the single food inspection agency — known creatively as, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – sucks.

The provincial regulators also suck.

So after years of taking it, the City of Toronto is once again trailblazing when it comes to serving the public – those who end up barfing from bad food – and has come up with its own idea of a food safety system that serves people.

Robert Cribb of the Toronto Star reports this morning that in a series of three reports to be presented to Toronto city council on Monday (available at, foodborne illness in Toronto is rampant and that in order to have fewer people barfing:

• Ontario should consider compensating food handlers who  are too sick to come to work due to "gastrointestinal illness;"
•  Ontario and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency should provide "full and timely disclosure of the food safety performance of all food premises
they inspect;” and,
• mandatory food handler training and certification, as recommended in the Justice Haines report of 2004 (that was my contribution).

A related story maintains that cases of foodborne illness began to fall almost immediately after Toronto began making restaurant inspection results public in 2001.

John Filion, chair of the city’s board of health, said it is the clearest evidence yet of the public health benefits of transparency.

Good for Toronto, especially when the feds and the province leave the locals out to dry on outbreaks of foodborne illness. In the Aug. 2008 outbreak of listeria linked to Maple Leaf deli meats, Toronto health types said they had plenty of evidence something was amiss in July, but CFIA and others refused to go public until Aug. 17, 2008. So with a federal listeria inquiry set to begin Monday, and Maple Leaf all focused on federal regulations, how are Maple Leaf executives going to handle pesky local health units like Toronto – the ones who actually do the work, uncover outbreaks and create their own headlines.