Canadian health unit putting inspection information online

If my friend Jim goes out for a celebratory meal, he’ll soon be able to check on a restaurant in Owen Sound (that’s in Ontario, Canada) to make sure it complies with health regulations.

green-pencilBeginning on Jan. 1, the Grey Bruce Health Unit will be including on its website a public disclosure system for food premises the health unit inspects. The system, called Check It, will allow members of the public to check the health regulation compliance of all food premises in Grey-Bruce, including restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries and chip wagons.

“It is very common practice in today’s world that people want to know where they are going, what the inspection results have been for a premises,” said Angela Newman, program manager, food safety, with the Grey Bruce Health Unit. “That is why this process was put in place from the province’s perspective a couple of years ago.”

Currently, if the public wants an inspection report of one of the approximately 1,600 food premises in Grey-Bruce, they would phone the health unit, which would then provide the information.

“What we are doing now is we are just going to make it a little bit more of a simple process for the general public to access that information, so it will be available on our website,” said Newman. “They will go to our Grey Bruce Health Unit website and there will be a link there and it will lead them to the food disclosure webpage.”

Newman said the program can be benefit to business owners.

“For folks that are doing a really great job, this is a way of saying, ‘Hey have a look. Have a look at my inspection reports. I am doing a great job and I am getting a good inspection report,'” said Newman. “It really helps those businesses get that kind of good publicity that they deserve.”

Newman said the program will also potentially motivate some businesses to clean up their acts.

Data not platitudes: market food safety but be able to back it up

I’m all for marketing microbial food safety at retail – directly to consumers – but only if the claims can be backed up with actions and data.

Schnuck Markets is expanding its so-called “Peace of Mind” initiative from pricing to quality assurance with a new website,, that emphasizes the chain’s dedication to quality and food safety.

Supermarket News cites one example on the website, a statement by Schnucks that “it intentionally applies shorter sell-by dates on meats and deli products to ensure products are fresher and last longer once purchased.”

“Through ‘Peace of Mind,’ you will have complete confidence that our foods are of the highest quality,” Schnucks writes on the website.

Quality and safety are seemingly used interchangeably on the website when they are actually two different concepts. The only evidence of food safety I saw on the website was that the company won some big-time award from the International Association for Food Protection in 2009.

I’m all for marketing food safety and providing comprehensive explanations of the food safety efforts of everyone in the farm-to-fork food safety chain, even the provision of testing data; some U.S. slaughterhouses are now doing this. Schnucks is going the right way, but it can be a lot better.

Chapman: How the Web makes cleaner kitchens

With the end of the National Hockey League regular season last night – people in Kansas will have no idea what I am talking abooooout – it’s fitting Canadian Ben Chapman gets top billing in the small market of Raleigh, North Carolina – they used to be the Hartford Whalers – where the Carolina Hurricanes have proven they can suck as bad as the Toronto Maple Leafs.

General Manager Jim Rutherford, from Beeton, Ontario, what went wrong? Is it because Chapman moved to Raleigh?

The Charlotte Observer features Chapman this morning and has a few nosestretchers, beginning by billing Chapman as a molecular biologist: yah, me too, except neither of us has run a gel in the past decade.

Ben Chapman, a molecular biologist (right, sorta as shown, with a lot of photoshop), considers it a distinct honor to publish some of his academic findings on and post scholarly writings in restaurant kitchens.

The N.C. State University assistant professor, who also publishes academic findings in peer-reviewed journals, is a food safety expert. …

Chapman was inspired by flyers posted above urinals in an Ontario sports bar near where he did his graduate work. Then he washed dishes in a university restaurant for three months (nosestretcher alert – it was one month) and learned that food handlers care about celebrities, music and pop culture.

He replaced statistics with narratives and wrapped the information sheet in plastic, because in a kitchen that indicates something is important.

When he posted the information sheets in kitchens where video cameras monitored how often 47 food handlers washed their hands and switched knives after cutting raw chicken, it turned out that "telling stories about foodborne illnesses and the consequences to food handlers makes a difference," he said.

Since he conducted the study and moved to North Carolina, he’s learned about other tools he plans to tap to get his message across – YouTube, mommyblogs and Twitter.

Are web searches indicators of disease outbreaks? Is Twitter useful?

I’ve tried playing on Twitter, the social networking tool that keeps things self-obsessed and brief, and now that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have weighed in and told me what to think, I agree:

Twitter sucks.

In a related item, researchers from Ottawa and Harvard reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal today that search engine queries of the term "listeriosis" demonstrated a possible signal of the deadly outbreak that killed 20 Canadians a month before the official announcement was made.

Or not.

One of the researchers, John Brownstein of Children’s Hospital Boston, said,

"In the case of listeriosis, as soon as the outbreak was announced we saw people in Canada searching for the word "listeria.’ That’s not surprising. The media drives a lot of people’s search habits on the web."

But searching for the more technical term "listeriosis" began about a month before the public announcement, "and peaked a couple of weeks before."

The researchers don’t know who was doing the early searchers. It could have been food inspection or industry officials investigating the possibility of the outbreak, they say, or queries by family and friends of people diagnosed early.

People were not diagnosed that early, except a couple. Much of the diagnoses came after initial media coverage.

And in another related item, newspapers are dying. But more targeted forms of information are doing okay. People, individuals, are still required to investigate, to probe and to weave disparate data into compelling stories, whether it’s  journalism, public health or science.

People writing on Twitter, “I farted,” does not mean there is an increase in gastrointestinal upsets. People searching the Internet for listeriosis would not have prevented listeria bacteria from accumulating in Maple Leaf slicers and killing people.