Canada’s (self-proclaimed) biggest analysis of public health inspection reports from national chain restaurants reveals that almost one-in-four inspections has at least one major violation, a CBC Marketplace investigation has found.
Major violations, such as improper food handling, inadequate handwashing and failing to keep food at safe temperatures, have the potential to negatively affect human health.
In the largest investigation of its kind, Marketplace analyzed the data from a year’s worth of public health restaurant inspections in five Canadian cities — Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Toronto and Ottawa — almost 5,000 reports in total. Two statisticians from the University of Toronto analyzed the data.
“Food safety is a very serious matter,” says Jim Chan, a retired public health inspector who spent 36 years with Toronto Public Health. “The public has a right to know so they can make informed choices.”
In some cases, Marketplace discovered that serious problems continued even after restaurants were notified by public health inspectors:
A Subway restaurant in Calgary was cited by health inspectors three times for contaminated cleaning cloths.
A Moxie’s in Vancouver failed to keep food at a safe temperature during three consecutive inspections.
A Tim Hortons in Calgary was written up by inspectors five times for a fly infestation.
According to the reports, handwashing was a significant problem in most cities, as was general kitchen cleanliness.
Retired Vancouver public health inspector Domenic Losito was alarmed by footage showing garbage strewn all over the kitchen floor at one restaurant.
“At least try to get the garbage in the garbage can, but – I think I would have walked into this place, walked out and filed a closure notice right away. I just – it’s just unacceptable,” he said.
Restaurants Canada, the group representing the restaurant industry, refused to speak on camera about the investigation.
The group opposes the public posting of inspection grades, such as those used by Toronto Public Health in its award-winning DineSafe program. In Toronto, restaurants are required to post inspection results where patrons can see them. The DineSafe cards are colour-coded (green for “pass,” yellow for “conditional pass,” and red for “closed”) to make results easy to understand.
Restaurants Canada says the yellow cards are “problematic and misleading” because there are many factors that depend on subjective assessment and that grades present an oversimplified picture of safety.
The group says that consumers who want to know how a restaurant has performed during inspections should access the reports online.
While many jurisdictions make inspection reports available online, some do not make results public.