Buyer beware

Some people will do anything for a quick buck. Fake health inspectors in the Greater Toronto Area have been targeting mom and pop food stores in purchasing food safety tests. If managers do not comply, they would be faced with severe health code violations. Now I have heard everything. Health inspectors are required to present valid identification prior to inspecting an establishment. If something does not look right, contact your local health authority.  Food and water tests should also be performed in an accredited laboratory and not on site.


The Toronto Star writes this morning Mom-and-pop food stores and restaurants across the GTA are being scammed by fake health inspectors pushing unnecessary food and water tests, authorities say.


Dozens of convenience store and restaurant owners, most of them new Canadians, have told Peel, Halton and Toronto health departments that they were contacted by a "food and water safety technician" wanting to sell them $30 to $40 safety tests.


The so-called technicians reportedly say the tests are mandatory, and hand out what looks like "old meat plant inspection forms" from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said Matt Ruf, Halton Region’s manager of food safety.


Halton and Toronto officials said the people typically identify themselves as representatives of the Canadian Food Safety Institute or the Canadian Food Safety Resource Centre, which the institute founded according to the website


The CFSI "is not an agency we would deal with," said Rob Colvin, manager of healthy environments for Toronto Public Health.


So far, only a handful of business owners – including two in Toronto – have paid for the tests, officials said.


The cases started emerging first in Peel and Halton in mid-January, then in Toronto about three weeks ago, Colvin said.


Jalal Hadibhai, who owns the Down Under convenience store in Yorkville, said a woman called Monday, saying she would send a technician the next day to perform E.coli tests in the store.


She wanted $39.95 in cash or cheque, he said.


Hadibhai called Toronto Public Health to ask if the tests were legitimate and was told no, he said.


In the end, no one came to the store.


"I would have asked for I.D.," the store owner said. "I would never give them cash."


Sgt. Brian Carr said Halton police are looking for a woman who attempted to sell the tests in a Hasty Market in Oakville yesterday.


She allegedly told the manager that without the tests he could face fines for health code violations.


The woman presented a business card indicating she was from the CFSRC, police said. The organization has addresses in Mississauga and Ottawa.


"There’s no such unit out there," Carr said. Messages left for the CEO of the safety institute were not returned.


A toll-free number listed on both organizations’ websites is out of order.


It’s unclear how many people are involved, but "it seems there’s a whole team of people out there," said Colvin.


Mark Nesbitt, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long- Term Care, said restaurant and store health inspections lie "entirely in the hands of local public health units."


Any private inspections purchased by business owners would be non- binding and, he added: "Buyer beware."