Check Before You Choose: Guelph lags on restaurant inspection disclosure

Guelph, the self-proclaimed Canadian capital of all things food – it’s not – has decided after 12 years to boldly follow Toronto’s lead and make barf.o.meter.dec.12available some form of restaurant inspection disclosure.

Not signs, not media, but a website.

The Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit says a new online system for public access to food safety inspection records will be ready by February 2013.

“You will be able to go to the website and access the restaurant inspection results,” communications manager Chuck Ferguson told the Guelph Mercury.

Called, Check Before you Choose, it will start with information from October 2012 and maintain a two-year record going forward.

The website will show when the last inspection was done, what specific issues were found and what action was taken as a result. Infractions are classified as critical or non-critical depending on whether they pose an immediate risk to public health.

Guelph graduate Sylvanus Thompson, the associate director at Toronto Public Health responsible for food safety, says that the Toronto system has been adapted and modified by cities in Ontario, the U.S. and Europe.

Although showing a direct connection between the regulations and less people getting food poisoning is difficult, he says compliance has increased from less than 50 per cent in 2000 to 90 per cent.

“We are also seeing less of the type of infractions that contribute to foodborne illness and less cases of foodborne illness in Toronto,” he says.

In 2011 the Guelph Public Health Unit inspected 1,365 locations. It issued only one ticket but 1,204 of the inspections required follow-up.

Time warp: Guelph still baffled by restaurant grades

Ten years after neighboring Toronto initiated its red-yellow-green restaurant grading system, eight years after we said Guelph sucked at providing public information on restaurant inspections, and six years after other Ontario communities began adopting a variety of additional information disclosure systems such as websites and letter-grades, Guelph is trying to catch up.

The self-proclaimed capital of all things food in Canada is maybe, possibly, considering disclosure.

The Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public health is signaling that it may want to make the results of its food safety assessments more readily accessible to the public.

The Guelph Mercury editorial board concludes that’s a welcome and overdue direction for this organization to take.

The agency is engaging in survey efforts with the general public and with food service providers to gain input on whether, and how, to place more information about health unit restaurant inspection results and the like more into the public realm.

There are two surveys on the health board’s website,, one for the public at large, the second for food preparation businesses like restaurants and caterers that are regularly inspected, on whether and how reports should be made accessible.

To date from both groups, it’s been virtually unanimous that such information would be appreciated.

“We thought the number would be high, but we didn’t really think it would be 99 per cent,” health protection manager Shawn Zentner said Wednesday.

Cutting-edge excellence.

In a 2005 audit, the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph unit only released the results of local restaurant inspections after a formal access to information request was made and paid for.

We know. A couple of my students tried to get some results in 2004 and were told to pay up and wait 4-6 weeks.

It’s all painfully archaic.

Still awaiting lifetime supply of limes: produce is ripe for foodies, target bloggers

In the 2001 film K-Pax, the would-be alien played by Kevin Spacey comments to psychiatrist Dr. Mark Powell (no relation) played by Jeff Bridges, the bestest greatest actor in the world, “Your produce alone has been worth the trip.”

(For a while I thought maybe I had some mysterious role in the film or book’s creation, being a Dr. Powell, and the tragic set-up for the plot occurring in Guelph, Texas, but then Amy reminded me that not every movie is about me, or us).

The Packer reports that a recent Big Apple conference was told to go to where the food bloggers, recipe writers, cookbook authors and cooking school teachers are and wow them with a product and message. It turns into fodder for blogging, tweeting, experimenting and developing.

Conference organizers incorporated New York’s publishing offerings into the program by scheduling media tours, one to the test kitchens of Meredith Corp., which publishes Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and Every Day With Rachael Ray magazines. With the magazine food editors present for the tour, Rodger Helwig, marketing specialist with California Vegetable Specialties, Rio Vista, Calif., found the opportunity to inform them of endive, getting agreement from each editor to receive a box to experiment with — something he was unable to accomplish by phone, he said.

The Australian limes are outstanding this time of year, and I incorporate them into every meal. Still waiting in Brisbane.

GE pigs, pink slime gone; what’s next?

A friend in grad school used to get pigs off.

He needed their semen for genetics research and, that was how to get it (with props, the mount-equivalent of lingerie, I guess).

That was 1986, and I would soon drop out of grad school to pursue Hunter-S-Thompson-esq journalist escapades, but not nearly as interesting.

The grad student worked with John Phillips, a prof in molecular biology at the University of Guelph, an excellent teacher (the rest of the department? not so much) and my occasional squash partner. After one match, I commented, with the arrogance of youth, you’re putting on a few pounds.

He said, when you’re this age, it will look pretty good.

Was he ever right.

Dr. John teamed up with a microbiology prof and in the 1990s they developed the Enviropig, a genetically engineered pig that could reduce phosphate contamination into the environment. Enviropigs digest feed more efficiently than naturally bred pigs, resulting in waste that may cause less environmental damage to lakes and rivers.

The project has sat in regulatory limbo for over a decade.

The project has produced eight generations of Enviropigs, including the current herd of 16 animals. But they may be the last of their kind, after Ontario Pork yanked their funding last month.

Self-proclaimed enviro-types claimed victory, but again, there were no winners.

Unlike pink slime, there were no politicians grandstanding the cause, no media reacting to media about sensationalist coverage, no talking heads about the excellence of science.


But why not, if the science is sound and the cause just?

There will be another pink slime, sooner rather than later – and those same self-proclaimed environmental activists have already taken ownership of pink slime as a catchphrase for things hidden. Food and Water Watch proclaims that doo doo chicken is the new pink slime.

Meanwhile, AFA Foods, based in King of Prussia, Pa., which processes 500 million pounds of ground beef products a year, declared bankruptcy yesterday, after the public outcry over pink slime derailed its efforts to save its already struggling business.

A meat manager for a major New York supermarket chain told Advertising Age, "The morning after the reports came out, ground-beef sales dropped. We ended up throwing chopped meat away. We don’t even use pink slime and we had to put signs up everywhere saying that. People wouldn’t even touch it."

All of this is a culture where food science is nothing compared to food porn (see below).

Hand hygiene at a petting zoo; room for improvement

OK hockey player and erstwhile blogger about all things zoonotic, Scott Weese, published a pretty cool paper about handwashing at a petting zoo on Friday.

Weese and doctoral candidate Maureen Anderson used a variation of our video observation system to watch and code the hand hygiene behaviors of visitors to a petting zoo at the University of Guelph’s annual open house, known as College Royal (that’s in Canada).

Video observation with discrete cameras has a couple of advantages: actions can be repeatedly viewed to make sure they are coded correctly, and video reduces the weirdness when people notice someone stalking watching whether they wash hands, in a bathroom, kitchen, or petting zoo.

As Weese writes in his Worms and Germs blog, “overall hand hygiene compliance was 58%. That means 58% of people that came into the petting zoo washed their hands or used a hand sanitizer on the way out. (It doesn’t mean they all did it well, but they at least did something). In some ways, that number’s good, when you compare to our earlier petting zoo observation study, (or even to results of hand hygiene rates of physicians in some hospitals). However, for such a short-term activity where there is easy access to facilities to wash hands or use a hand sanitizer, there’s much room for improvement.

“During the petting zoo, a few thing were changed at defined times to see if they could improve hand hygiene rates. Two things resulted in increased hand hygiene compliance; a combination of people offering hand sanitizer and improving signs, and having people at the exit reminder people to wash their hands. This suggests that people need a reminder to wash their hands. Whether they don’t think about it, or can’t be bothered unless someone points it out, is unclear, but having people encourage hand hygiene is a good think to consider. It’s practical for short-term events like petting zoos at fairs and similar exhibits, but not as practical for permanent exhibits.”

And not so practical for food service, hospitals and elsewhere. However a combination of rapid, relevant, reliable and repeated information, coupled with handwashing hall monitors, may increase rates of hand hygiene compliance. But more about that later. Some of the handwashing signs used in the Anderson and Weese experiment are shown, above right.

The abstract for the paper is below.

Video observation of hand hygiene practices at a petting zoo and the impact of hand hygiene interventions
Epidemiology and Infection
M. E. C. Anderson and J. S. Weese
Petting zoos are popular attractions, but can also be associated with zoonotic disease outbreaks. Hand hygiene is critical to reducing disease risks; however, compliance can be poor. Video observation of petting zoo visitors was used to assess animal and environmental contact and hand hygiene compliance. Compliance was also compared over five hand hygiene intervention periods. Descriptive statistics and multivariable logistic regression were used for analysis. Overall hand hygiene compliance was 58% (340/583). Two interventions had a significant positive association with hand hygiene compliance [improved signage with offering hand sanitizer, odds ratio (OR) 3·38, P<0·001; verbal hand hygiene reminders, OR 1·73, P=0·037]. There is clearly a need to improve hand hygiene compliance at this and other animal exhibits. This preliminary study was the first to demonstrate a positive impact of a hand hygiene intervention at a petting zoo. The findings suggest that active, rather than passive, interventions are more effective for increasing compliance.

Manitoba Hutterite company fined for reselling turkeys to Guelph man and used for hockey fundraisers

CBC News reports that a business owned by a Manitoba Hutterite colony has been fined for selling thousands of turkeys deemed not fit for human consumption.

Hazelridge-based Heartland Colony Farms Ltd. recently pleaded guilty to a charge under the federal Meat Inspection Act in a Winnipeg courtroom and was handed a $10,000 fine.

"There are very much public safety concerns here," provincial court Judge Sid Lerner said, adding the company showed "negligent conduct" in how it allowed the roughly 13,154 kilograms of frozen turkey carcasses to be re-introduced into the food chain.

According to the facts of the case presented by federal Crown attorney Jeremy Akerstream, the colony purchased the turkeys "sight unseen" for $16,000 in 2007 after a truck ferrying them from a British Columbia plant crashed on an Alberta highway.

They were transferred from the crashed truck to two others, meaning the turkeys were no longer fit for human consumption unless they were reinspected under federally-approved guidelines, Akerstream said.

The turkeys, which were the property of an unidentified major meat processing company, were then sold in a salvage deal to the Manitoba colony.

The colony took possession of the birds and had them repackaged into clear plastic bags. They then sold and shipped the majority to a man in Guelph, Ont. for about $27,000.

In turn, he passed on the turkeys to minor hockey league clubs in Aurora and Markham, as well as to a business, the prosecutor said.

There were no illnesses reported as a result of the birds being back in the food chain, Akerstream said.

In one interview, a company official said, "he didn’t know what the big deal was, he had eaten some of the turkeys and no one got sick," Akerstream said.

When the charge was laid, many on the colony reacted with "complete and utter shock," said defence lawyer Jamie Kagan, who represented the company in court.

"This has become a very, very expensive mistake from their perspective," he said.