Coaching hockey requires mandatory training, so should food preparation

Ottawa Public Health is debating whether to force all food handlers in the city to take a mandatory food safety course.

Parenting and preparing food are about the only two activities that do not require some kind of certification in Western countries. For example, to coach little girls playing ice hockey in Canada requires 16 hours of training. To coach kids on a travel team requires an additional 24 hours of training.

Anyone who serves, prepares or handles food, in a restaurant, nursing home, day care center, supermarket or local market needs some basic food safety training.

Sherry Beadle, Ottawa health department’s program manager of food safety, said, "The difference with this certification program is it allows a greater in-depth look at food handling practices. Training is always a good thing."

Not if the training is mind-numbingly dull, trying to transform line cooks or servers into microbiology or HACCP experts. That’s why training needs goals and continual evaluation.

There could be mandatory food handler training, for say, three hours, that could happen in school, on the job, whatever. But training is only a beginning. Just because someone is told to wash the poop off their hands before they prepare salad for 100 people doesn’t mean it is going to happen; weekly outbreaks of hepatitis A confirm this. There are a number of additional carrots and sticks that can be used to create a culture that values microbiologically safe food and a work environment that rewards hygienic behavior. But mandating basic training is a start.

Eight of Ontario’s 36 health units currently require mandatory certification.

The course should be mandatory, and then should be evaluated and improved so that food service employees actually use what they allegedly learn, with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of foodborne illnesses.

And the best establishments won’t wait for government. Ottawa restaurant owner Daoud Ahmadi, who has been in the food industry for 13 years, told CBC News it should be a mandatory course for anyone who handles food and that he expects all his new employees to take the course even though it is currently voluntary.

"It is really important for people that are working on the food," Ahmadi said.