Jessica Simpson was ‘puking her guts’ yesterday

Maybe she didn’t check the grade at one of her recent restaurant meals, but newly engaged Jessica Simpson had to cancel a number of appearances, including the Late Show with David Letterman, after she spent the day vomiting.

I was puking my guts up yesterday. I got really sick. I don’t know if it was food poisoning. One of my other friends who’s out here with me, she was puking too. I think we had rotten milk so every time I think of milk now I’m queasy.”

Or she’s pregnant.

Fancy food does not mean safe food, Sydney edition

Sydney’s wealthiest area, Mosman, ranked among the riskiest places to eat in New South Wales according to the Food Authority’s annual report card, obtained by The Sun-Herald.

Overall, cafes, restaurants and takeaway shops in NSW received more than 2000 fines for hygiene offences over the past year.

Although NSW has established Australia’s toughest hygiene compliance regime, one-fifth of the state’s 20,000 registered food sellers continue to put the health of their customers at risk.

The NSW, shows food sellers failed more than 13,000 random inspections. That represents 26.3 per cent of the 50,005 inspections carried out in the 12 months to June 30, with some premises inspected three times or more.

More than 8000 warning letters were sent to restaurants and cafes by 153 local authorities. Improvement notices were sent to 1399 businesses and 2049 penalty notices issued.

The number of court prosecutions more than halved from 48 to 22 in 2009-10.

There are now nearly 1800 businesses on the state government’s ”name and shame” list.

Mosman – where the average annual income is $131,606 – ranks among the poorest for food hygiene.

Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan said he was pleased that fewer businesses had required re-inspection in the past year. The purpose of the report was ”so we can be alerted to where the problems lie and fix them’.’

A ”scores-on-doors” scheme, revealed by The Sun-Herald in April, is being trialled in 20 council areas until Christmas. Participating restaurants display a simple A, B or C rating. It is hoped the prospect of a poor rating will drive owners to maintain high standards of cleanliness.

Scores on Doors too clear for UK restaurant grading schemes

Only a Lord could get away with a report titled, Common Sense Common Safety.

It ain’t common sense if it hasn’t been thought of.

The report, published today in the U.K. by Lord Young, the Prime Minister’s adviser on health and safety law and practice, puts forward a series of policies for improving the perception of health and safety, to ensure it is taken seriously by employers and the general public, while ensuring the burden on small business is as insignificant as possible.

Wouldn’t it be better to improve health and safety, and then the perception would be improved – if there was actual data to back up the claims of improved health and safety?

The report is written in a snooty tone that apparently only the British can achieve, and was deliberated in the context of the compensation culture – those vulgar lawyers looking for recompense for slighted victims.

Prime Minister David Cameron said,

“A damaging compensation culture has arisen, as if people can absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their own actions, with the spectre of lawyers only too willing to pounce with a claim for damages on the slightest pretext.

“We simply cannot go on like this. That’s why I asked Lord Young to do this review and put some common sense back into health and safety. And that’s exactly what he has done.”

The U.K. Food Standards Agency was quick to say the Lord backed their restaurant inspection disclosure scheme.

Under the voluntary Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, each business is given a hygiene rating (from 0-5) when it is inspected by a food safety officer from the business’s local authority. The hygiene rating shows how closely the business is meeting the requirements of food hygiene law.

I was never sure about the 0-5 rating – is 5 good or bad – whereas a letter grading has clearer meaning. The actual report contains some clues:

The good Lord says that local authority participation in the Food Standards Agency’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme be made mandatory, and that usage of the scheme by consumers by harnessing the power and influence of local and national media.

He also says the voluntary display of ratings should be reviewed after 12 months and, if necessary, make display compulsory – particularly for those businesses that fail to achieve a ‘generally satisfactory’ rating.

“I welcome the FSA’s decision to drop the unfortunate title ‘scores on the doors’, which has been used in the past for this initiative, and its decision to drop the use of stars, which have a connotation of cost and service. I am pleased that they have decided instead to use a simple numerical scale with appropriate descriptors. These decisions were based on the results of independent research with consumers and this is what they found to be clearest and easiest to use.”

Scores on doors may be too direct for the Lord; I hope the Aussies keep using it. And I look forward to the 0-5 studies being published in a peer-reviewed journal so mere mortals can review the research.

The good Lord also cites the Los Angeles example of restaurant inspection disclosure – they use letter grades – and inflates an already dubious estimate by stating there was a 20 per cent drop in the number of people being admitted to hospital for food related illnesses after the introduction of the letter grades.

Restaurant inspection is a snapshot in time and disclosure is no panacea. It can boost the overall culture of food safety, hold operators accountable, and is a way of marketing food safety so that consumers can choose.

L.A. County wants food trucks to carry health letter grades

Why not? Wherever people eat, they should be able to get publicly-funded information about food safety; the smart operators will market their excellent food safety.

Los Angeles County public health officials are asking the Board of Supervisors to expand to food trucks the county’s popular letter grading system that evaluates safe food handling practices. The vote, originally scheduled for Tuesday, has been pushed back a week.

If approved, 6,000 full-service catering trucks and 3,500 hot dog, churro and other limited food service carts would be covered by the ordinance. If the supervisors approve it, enforcement would first begin in unincorporated areas of the county.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health, said,

“Even before this trend, we felt people were asking us: We go to a restaurant, we like the grading system, but what about all these trucks that are coming? How do we know? We’ve been looking at this for some time.”

Public health officials said the current program does not meet annual inspection goals because they cannot locate food vehicles that move constantly. The new ordinance will require vendors to give information about their vehicle whereabouts and mandates that the trucks be inspected twice a year.

Erin Glenn, chief executive officer of Asociacion de Loncheros, an association of lunch trucks, said,

“As long as enforcement is fair, and the inspectors treat local food vendors with respect, just like they do with the brick-and-mortar establishments, hopefully the inspection standards are the same, I think the regulations are fine. I think it’s a step in the right direction to improve public health, and we’re all for it.”

Winnipeg: Health inspectors need to crack down on dodgy diners

About a month ago Winnipeg citizens were horrified when a couple dining at Sizzling Wok found a dead baby rodent in their stir-fry. Over the weekend the Winnipeg Free Press reported that restaurant inspections in the city are too slack.

In the last four years, five city eateries accounted for close to 20 per cent of all health-code violations, ranging from rodent infestations to serving chicken that wasn’t inspected or registered under the Meat Inspection Act. Two had mice infestations, one stored toxic material near food and four were temporarily shut down due to unsanitary conditions. Today, four of the five are still in business.

City inspectors can suspend a restaurant’s business licence without warning if repeat violations aren’t corrected and they deem it a danger to public health. To date, that power has never been used. Officials admit their standard arsenal of tools doesn’t always work, and that they may need to be more forceful to crack down on repeat offenders.

Peter Parys, Winnipeg’s manager of community bylaw enforcement services, said,

"You’re going to find a certain percentage of people that are totally unco-operative. I think in some cases an argument (could be made) we need to take a more aggressive approach."

Most of Winnipeg’s 8,000-plus eateries are inspected once a year. Health inspectors rely on the element of surprise and typically walk in unannounced so businesses don’t have time to clean up…While the majority of local eateries get a clean bill of health, there are dozens considered "high-risk" that don’t.

Although fines help increase compliance, some places simply don’t abide by the rules…officials say the real problem is getting through to people who aren’t getting the message about the fallout from breaking the health code.

Brian Rivet, a senior environmental health officer with the city, said,

"I think now with our education program there’s less and less of them who don’t know. They’re busy and they take shortcuts."

Shortcuts can have disastrous consequences.

In 2006, 40 people fell ill with a dangerous strain of E. coli after eating contaminated meat sold at four different restaurants. More than half of the cases were linked to meat sold by the Dutch Meat Market and four local hamburger joints that bought the meat and were busted for poor food-handling practices that may have contributed to people getting sick.

Stomachs across the city churned earlier this year when news surfaced that a local couple found dead baby rodents in a stir-fry they purchased from Sizzling Wok in St. Vital. Photos of the loonie-sized mice were posted online, and even veteran inspectors such as Leblanc admit they were extreme and disturbing.

Inspection reports show Sizzling Wok had been reviewed eight months earlier but no major problems were found.

Although public disclosure systems like Scores on Doors in the UK or letter grades in L.A. (see Jessica Simpson, left) may not necessarily decrease the incidence of foodborne illness, they can enhance consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared at restaurants. In Winnipeg Diner’s Digest is available online, an online document listing recent establishment closures; however little inspection details are given and it may not always be up-to-date.

Let the Real Housewives of Orange County chime in on restaurant inspection grades

Having 10-day old baby Sorenne means a lot of sitting around. Seriously, the kid must have breastfed for 12 hours yesterday. And that means a lot of bad TV for Amy and Sorenne. Lately, it’s been a Real Housewives of Orange County marathon. I don’t know who lives like that and I don’t know what’s real about those people, but those ladies need to get their botoxed faces and fake boobies and restylane lips down to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Despite a warning from the county grand jury, the Board once again declined Tuesday to impose a letter grading system designed to inform would-be diners about the health safety record of restaurants.

Supervisor Bill Campbell, who once owned a chain of Taco Bell franchises, said he thought it was unfair to punish restaurant owners with grades or color codes if they had corrected problems and met health standards.

Orange County does not require its 13,000 restaurants to post letter grades after health inspections. Instead, restaurants are required to post certificates showing that they have met food preparation and cleanliness standards or are scheduled for a reinspection because of past violations.

In May, the Orange County Grand Jury concluded that the county’s current system essentially keeps the public "in the dark" about a restaurant’s record and suggested the county’s Health Care Agency require restaurants to post letter grades so the public knows how they scored in their last safety inspections.

After watching the mish-mash of federal, state and local approaches to restaurant inspection in a number of western countries for the past decade, I can draw two broad conclusions:

• 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; and,

• the results of restaurant and other food service inspections must be made public.

Publicly available grading systems rapidly communicate to diners the potential risk in dining at a particular establishment and restaurants given a lower grade may be more likely to comply with health regulations in the future to prevent lost business.

More importantly, such public displays of information help bolster overall awareness of food safety amongst staff and the public — people routinely talk about this stuff. The interested public can handle more, not less, information about food safety.

And instead of waiting for politicians to take the lead, the best restaurants, those with nothing to hide and everything to be proud of, will go ahead and make their inspection scores available — today. Demand it ladies.