Peer-review has a purpose: Canadian food safety study long on rhetoric, short on data

A new report says Canadians suffer more foodborne illness than Americans, that most of it happens with restaurant meals, and that consumers are sorta dumb too.

Unfortunately, the report relies heavily on other reports that are not peer-reviewed, assumptions, and suffers from highly selective referencing to make a point – and I have no idea what that point is.

The report, Improving Food Safety in Canada: Toward a More Risk Responsive System, released by the Conference Board of Canada to coincide with their food safety conference and upstaged by Galen Weston Jr.’s comments that farmer’s markets were going to kill someone, says half or more of all cases of foodborne illnesses in Canada are picked up in restaurants or from other food service providers.

Daniel Munro, Principal Research Associate, said, “It is commonly assumed that farms and food processing companies hold the most responsibility for ensuring safe food, and their role is critical. But most foodborne illnesses are associated with the preparation and storage practices of restaurants, food service operations, and consumers themselves.”

I’m not sure who makes that assumption. It is estimated there are 6.8 million cases of food-borne illness annually in Canada.

Part of the problem can be traced to restaurant inspection systems that are seen as too sporadic to have an impact on restaurants’ day-to-day food safety practices.

Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association dismissed the report describing it as "shockingly short on facts."

"This study did not even bother contacting us about what we are doing, and if they had, they would know that there are three government recognized food safety training programs that train tens of thousands food handlers per year," Whyte said.

Except training alone doesn’t do much for food safety behavior.

The report provides a number of recommendations to improve Canada’s food safety system including providing restaurants and other food service providers with timely information and advice on how they can minimize food safety risks.

We call them infosheets.

It also urges governments to build on current consumer awareness initiatives by engaging consumers directly in discussions about food safety in their households.

The report offers no advice on how to do that.