Toronto looks at daycares, nursing homes for DineSafe

While other cities continue to fight a losing war against restaurant inspection disclosure, Toronto is planning to expand its red-yellow-green placard system to daycares, hospitals, nursing homes and school cafeterias, 20 months after a Ryerson University/Star investigation revealed serious gaps in the city’s heralded DineSafe program.

toronto.dinesafeDr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health is recommending city council expand DineSafe to food-serving institutions including daycares, hospitals, nursing homes and school cafeterias. They would have to prominently display green (pass), yellow (cautionary pass) or red (fail) health inspection results.

McKeown also wants the notices posted for public pool and spa water tests.

Expanding DineSafe disclosure “will increase compliance with health and safety requirements and result in improved public health,” he states in a report released Monday.

About 2,000 food-serving institutions are not covered by stringent DineSafe requirements introduced 14 years ago and credited with reducing dangerous health violations by Toronto restaurants.

Because daycares, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions “serve vulnerable populations, they are considered high-risk food premises requiring at least three compliance inspections annually,” the report states.

“You guys get the credit for pushing us to disclose,” Toronto Public Health food safety manager Jim Chan said at the time.

However, institutions were not forced to display green, yellow or red signs at their entrances.

McKeown’s proposed bylaw would expand DineSafe to “premises where food or milk is manufactured, processed, prepared, stored, handled, displayed, distributed, transported, sold or offered for sale, but does not include a private residence.”

Organic juice bar employee has hep A in Toronto

I don’t do juice bars.

big.carrotI’ll take my fruit whole.

And I don’t want it organic.

Toronto Public Health is advising anyone who consumed juice at the Big Carrot organic juice bar located at 348 Danforth Avenue in Toronto, Ontario, between March 17, 2015 and April 2, 2015 that they may have been exposed to hepatitis A.  While the risk is low, individuals who consumed fresh organic juice from this food market during these dates should get a hepatitis A vaccination as soon as possible.

An employee of the Big Carrot organic juice bar is a confirmed case of hepatitis A and anyone who consumed fresh juice at the organic juice bar between March 17, 2015 and April 2, 2015 could be at risk of infection.  Toronto Public Health is asking anyone who consumed organic fresh juice at the organic juice bar during these dates to monitor for signs and symptoms, practice thorough hand washing and contact their health care provider if concerned.


Would you eat off a subway platform? This guy in Canada did

A vacuum brand manager is so confident in his product’s cleaning power that he decided to eat his lunch straight from the floor of Toronto’s busiest subway station, and to record the experience on video.

Ravi Dalchand, brand manager at Bissell Canada and ad firm KBS+ Toronto, came up with the brilliant if gag-inducing idea.

In the video, he cleans a small square of the subway platform with a Bissell Symphony All-in-One Vacuum and Steam Mop, which the company claims can eliminate 99.9 per cent of all germs.

99.9 per cent would be a 3-log killstep.

Food safety types tend to want about a 7-log kill step.

Should swimming pools have restaurant-like grades for safety? Toronto thinks so

Operators of pools, spas, hot tubs and wading pools in Toronto could soon be required to post on-site inspection notices, letting the public know if any health and safety violations have taken place.

caddyshack.pool.poop-1In 2011, the Star revealed that pool operators were racking up multiple infractions for everything from dirty water and malfunctioning equipment to missing safety gear, but those inspection results were not revealed to the public.

The news that swimmers, spa-goers and students were being put at potential risk of disease and injury prompted Councillor John Filion, then chair of the Toronto Board of Health, to call for a prominent display of proof as to whether the facilities met city standards.

On April 28, the board will consider a new proposal from the medical officer of health to determine whether the city should draft a bylaw that compelling operators of pools, public spas (hot tubs) and wading pools to post a sign or document showing inspection outcomes. The medical officer will report, with the city solicitor, on the content of the proposed bylaw.

If the board votes to proceed, the proposal will then be considered by city council on May 6. Council will make the final decision. The proposed bylaw would apply to more than 1,600 facilities.

Full disclosure: Toronto Public Health creates institutional outbreak website

Public health folks seem to wrestle with when to make investigation information public: they want to have enough data to be confident before fingering any specific foods or locales. Releasing incorrect or incomplete information, like the Florida tomato industry often points out, can affect business. Sitting on info can further put individuals at risk.
Schaffner often credits epidemiologist Paul Mead with summarizing the problem “If you’re wrong, you went public too early; if you’re right, you went [public] too late.”torontopublichealthexhibitorlogo

Having a consistent policy on what gets released when is lacking in the public health world – and Toronto Public Health (TPH), in an effort to increase openness and transparency, is pulling back the curtain on outbreak investigations. According to the Toronto Star’s Robert Cribb, TPH has begun listing all current confirmed and investigated healthcare-linked outbreaks on their website, and will update the list weekly.

For the first time, all outbreaks in Toronto nursing homes, retirement homes and hospitals will be publicly posted on a city website — a new public health disclosure system prompted by a Toronto Star-Ryerson University investigation.
Each Thursday, Toronto Public Health will now detail outbreaks by nature, institution name and address, as well as indicate whether it is still active. The reports will include both gastroenteric outbreaks (such as those causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever) and respiratory infections (which result in symptoms such as coughing, runny noses, sore throats, fevers).
The current report, covering the week of Feb. 13-19, lists 15 outbreaks — 10 in long-term care homes, three in retirement homes and two in hospitals. Ten were still active at time of reporting.

“(The new disclosure system) is a good idea,” said Doug Powell, a Canadian food safety expert. “They’re already collecting this information, so making it public isn’t that much more work. They work for the public and they’re there to serve public health. And from a personal point of view, I’d want to know if one of my relatives were in one of those institutions. It brings a level of public accountability.” 

Slipped my mind: 2,000 bottles of potentially tainted water found in Toronto food venues long after closure order

More than 2,000 bottles of water from a Caledon producer shut down in July because of its bacteria-tainted product have been found in Toronto restaurants, hotels and a health food store in recent weeks, according to Rob Cribb of the Toronto Star.

While Blue Glass Water Co. Ltd. was under a provincial health order to stop producing and shipping its product as of July 18, Toronto health officials say blue_glass_water.jpg.size.xxlarge.promopotentially tainted water was still entering food establishments here as recently as Sept. 27.

In an exclusive interview with the Star, Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. David McKeown, said Friday it is impossible to know whether there could be more of the banned product still out there. “We don’t have a complete and accurate distribution list (because) it has not been provided by the operator,” he said. “So, in terms of the challenges of responding, it’s more complex than other such cases.”

Marshall Kazman, the only listed director of Blue Glass Water Co. Ltd. in Ontario corporate filings, has dismissed the allegations in interviews with the Star, calling his water safe and naturally infused with cancer-fighting properties. The disbarred lawyer, who is currently facing criminal fraud charges, called the ordered shutdown of his facility “a witch hunt” and “much ado about nothing.” He said he has not shipped his product since being ordered closed in July. “If there was a real danger would you not think a recall would have been ordered months ago?” he said in a statement Saturday.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which originally tested the water along with Peel Region in late July, found “elevated levels of aerobic colony counts” in some samples, it said in a statement to the Star. The tests did not show pathogens such as E. coli or parasites, it says. “Based on the absence of an identified hazard and the contained exposure . . . the CFIA determined that a risk assessment was not needed and as such, no recall action was requested.” The level of concern about the water is much higher among provincial and local health officials. Officials at both levels have told the Star that testing of the Caledon Clear Watercompany’s water revealed it was “heavily contaminated” and “unfit to drink.” The “overgrowth of bacteria” in the water “masked” identification of specific pathogens such as E. coli and coliform, said the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Arlene King.

The Star first reported health concerns about serious contamination in Blue Glass Water on Thursday, a threat nearly three months old that had not been made public. That lack of public notification meant the water continued to be served to unwitting customers across southern Ontario even as health officials were quietly looking for the water in food establishments for confiscation.

Following the Star’s questions to the province, the ministry issued a strongly worded statement warning the public not to consume Blue Glass Water because of the “potential health threat posed by these products.” Since the Star’s story, Toronto Public Health received several complaints from people who say they were made ill after drinking it. Inspectors are now investigating those cases.

So far, Toronto inspectors have found Blue Glass Water in 20 food establishments, ranging from high-end restaurants to a hotel and a health food store. The city is not identifying the establishments since they no longer serve the water and “they did nothing wrong,” said McKeown.

New DineSafe iPhone app makes Toronto inspection data more accessible

A local developer named Matthew Ruten has, according to the Torontoist, found a way of making DineSafe information even more accessible: using the City’s open data, he’s created an iPhone app that lets users view the health-inspection histories of whatever restaurants happen to be near them.

The app, which is called “Dinesafe,” has been available in Apple’s app store for 99 cents since last week. It uses the iPhone’s GPS capabilities to spit out information on whatever restaurants happen to be closest.

The app displays restaurant names and addresses next to handy colour-coded graphics that let a user know, at a glance, how often each place has run afoul of inspectors. (Just as on the official DineSafe website, green is good, yellow not so good, and red the worst.) Flicking through the different restaurant profiles is more or less what reading Yelp would be like, if all Yelp reviews were written by bureaucrats.

Ruten wrote in an email, “The DineSafe signs that you see in the windows of restaurants don’t give you any idea how that restaurant has performed historically, so this app makes that information available.”

Now rat-free, fish market will reopen

The New Seaway Fish Market, a fixture in Toronto’s Kensington Market, will reopen its doors Friday morning with new inventory after a rat infestation closed the fishmonger for several days.

“I’m really shocked,” proprietor Kim Chou told the Globe and Mail.

“This building is at least 100 years old, and gradually it got damaged. I have to say I didn’t really pay attention – that’s why the rats found entry my store.”

The intruders were Norway rats, brown and sleek, and there were probably dozens of them on or around the premises, said Jim Chan, who manages the food safety program for Toronto Public Health.

In recent weeks, Mr. Chan’s staff have closed three other rodent-plagued food outlets downtown – one in Kensington, another on Spadina Avenue and a third on Gerrard Street – and he explains that what’s going on is no great mystery. It’s the rapidly changing weather, coupled with rats’ talent for crawling through extremely small holes. “When it’s cold, rodents such as rats like to burrow into structures, to wherever it’s warm.”

Then, when things warm up, they’re on the move again. “It all makes them mobile.”

Toronto warns of fraudulent restaurant inspectors

Toronto Public Health (TPH) is warning restaurant operators about individuals falsely posing as restaurant inspectors. 

TPH and the Toronto Police Service have received inquiries in the past week from food premise operators in Toronto who have been contacted in person or by phone by individuals claiming to be health inspectors and telling them they must purchase a first-aid kit for $300.

“If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a Toronto Public Health inspector attempting to schedule an inspection, asking for personal information or selling first-aid kits, contact your local police department,” said Jim Chan, food safety manager with Toronto Public Health.

“Legitimate public health inspectors do not call ahead to schedule inspections. In most cases, inspections are unannounced. As well, TPH inspectors do not sell first-aid kits to food operators.”

Plastic bags banned in Toronto? Cue the McCartney scream

With the Marlies’ (Toronto’s most successful hockey team) season over, many Torontonians (they live in Canada) may turn their attention to the frothy battles between Mayor Rob Ford and his city council colleagues. At least until the Leafs start training camp.

Last week, in an attempt to repeal a rule requiring a 5-cent fee for to plastic bags at retail stores, Ford’s focus resulted in Toronto City Council banning plastic bags outright. Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.

The fallout is following a particularly familiar path: a crusade on reusable bags in the name of public health.

Maryam Shah reports in the Toronto Sun

With plastic bags soon to be outlawed in this city, possibly to be followed by other municipalities, many shoppers will turn to reusable bags as the logical replacement.

Maybe not.

University of Ottawa microbiologist Dr. Jason Tetro calls them "a nightmare for public health (units)," warning that people should be aware of bacteria growing on their bags.

"if you are getting groceries, then there’s a chance that they will end up leaking into the bag, and then you have growth and virus survival," he said.

He cited a report by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) from 2008, which said that reusable bags can harbour germs from meat and produce.

Nightmare might be a bit of an overstatement. The published evidence doesn’t even show that reusable bags are much of a risk factor.

The CPIA study the Germ Guy cites was based on data generated from swabbing a whopping 25 bags, with 4 controls looking for anything they could find.

Swab-testing of a scientifically-meaningful sample of both single-use and reusable grocery bags found unacceptably high levels of bacterial, yeast, mold and coliform counts in the reusable bags. The swab testing was conducted March 7-April 10th by two independent laboratories. The study found that 64% of the reusable bags were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than the 500 CFU/mL considered safe for drinking water.

Um, yeah except that coliform isn’t an indicator of really anything in a shopping bag. It’s a great indicator of water quality, but not great for food (coliforms are all over the place, including on produce). The lack of real data is probably why it was reported in CFU/ml (a water measurement — pretty hard to tell what a ml of a shopping bag represents). The most telling data was that no generic E. coli or Salmonella was found.

Williams and colleagues (2011) have published the only peer-reviewed study on the microbial safety of reusable bags and tested growth of Salmonella in 2 batches. They spiked the bags with 10^6 cfu and let them sit in the trunk of a car for 2 hours. One of the batches, where the temperature reached 47C/117F, showed a one-log increase in the Salmonella. The other batch, where the temperature reached 53C/124F, there was a one-log reduction. That data doesn’t show just a breeding zone – it shows they can be a killing zone too (and I’m not sure how realistic a 10^6 contamination really is).

Friend of barfblog and food safety rock star, Sylvanus Thompson put things into perspective by saying there is currently no campaign targeting reusable bags and that Health Canada’s website provides safety tips for safely reusing grocery bags.

A bigger nightmare is the rumor the Leafs have interest in trading for Roberto Luongo.