‘I work for the public to make sure their dining experience is not going to send them to the hospital’

CBC News reports that food kept too warm or too cold, dirty utensils and one live animal have all been found in Windsor and Essex County restaurants within the past year, according to a CBC News analysis of Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reports (that’s in Ontario, Canada).

Documents provided to CBC News by the health unit show 1,795 health and safety infractions at 540 locations where food was served between Oct. 2014 and 2015.  

The health unit regularly inspects restaurants and places where food is served in Windsor and Essex County. The frequency of the inspections depends on how high the risk is for food contamination at each place.  According to the health unit, a full-service restaurant is inspected at least three times a year.

“We are enforcers, but we’re trying to educate first,” Elaine Bennett, a public health inspector with the health unit said in an interview with CBC News. “We’re working with people to make sure they’re not causing food-borne illness in the community.”

Bennett has been a health inspector for the past 15 years.

“Ultimately I’m working for the public to make sure their dining experience is not going to send them to the hospital,” she said.  


UK coffee shop hit with £40K fine for hygiene offences

A Berkshire coffee shop has been fined almost £40,000 for breaches of food safety and hygiene.

coffeaThe owners of Coffea in Thames Street in Windsor were sentenced for 13 offences relating to food safety, hygiene, and health and safety matters.

Inspectors found kitchen areas were dirty, with build-up of grease and food debris, and had not been cleaned for a considerable time.

The premises had internal structural damage to floor and wall tiles and splash guards, meaning they could not be cleaned and had accumulated dirt.

A food store room had a damaged ceiling, meaning dirt and shedding particles could contaminate food.

There was a build-up of grease and dirt on window openings in the kitchens, which also failed to prevent the entry of insects.

Food was at risk of contamination from rodents, with evidence of gnawed shell eggs and pasta; entry points found in ceiling holes and droppings discovered on store room shelves.

There were no management systems in place to ensure rodent control, stock rotation, food temperature control or food room maintenance and cleanliness.

The inspectors said there was imminent danger to the health of both customers and staff – and the director of owning company Shabaneh Ltd, Fred Yaghoubi, agreed to voluntarily close the premises.

Food safety at temporary events and festivals costs money

We use festivals as great weekend diversions for the kids. Every week I check out the local events schedule and take the boys anywhere that’s got cool stuff to see or do (including bouncy houses, simulated toboggan hills or bug displays). Usually there are fundraiser booths with burgers or bbq sandwiches.

Sometimes they are run by professional folks. Other times it is a cadre of well-meaning amateur food handlers.______2632069_orig

A couple of years back some public health folks got in political trouble for tossing away a bunch of problematic high risk sandwiches at a Windsor, Ontario fundraiser. The organizers claimed foul about the public health folks were doing their job – keeping unsafe food off of plates. Politicians jumped in and turned it into a circus about regulating ‘blue-haired grandmas‘.

What was lost in all the rhetoric was that good jurisdictions have food safety standards for all food being sold, regardless of where the funds to to, and that health authorities have a duty to ensure that the rules are being followed.

And that costs money.

According to Holly Meyer of the Post-Crescent Media , between $7500 and $10k are spent annually by the Appleton (Wisconsin) Health Department on temporary events and festivals. 

The Appleton Health Department uses permits, training and inspections to ensure food stands are operating properly, said Kurt Eggebrecht, the department’s health officer. Those efforts cost both the vendors and the taxpayers thousands of dollars every fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

The food stand owners, like those who have to set up at the weekly Downtown Appleton Farm Market or annual Octoberfest, must apply for permits.

From July 1-31, the health department issued 83 permits, taking in $4,378. Eggebrecht said those numbers will jump in a couple of months because of Octoberfest.

The costs vary by permit, with nonprofit stands paying $30, temporary restaurants paying $123 and traveling retail stands paying $68.

The health department’s environmental staff also conducts inspections at the stands and spends time consulting and training with the vendors, Eggebrecht said. The department pays for the staff hours to perform the duties. They spent $10,406 in 2012-13, $7,480 in 2013-14 and $990 so far this year. (The totals exclude administrative, vehicle and fuel costs.)

Being a good community steward and passionate individual doesn’t make someone good at food safety. Investing resources into standards, verification and coaching certainly can help.

Food poisoning hard to prove – and complaint records hard to get

The Ottawa E. coli case that prompted the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to bar restaurants from serving raw kibbeh may not have been caused by the ground beef dish after all.

Eric Leclair, head of the health information co-ordination unit at Ottawa Public Health, told Claire Brownell of the Windsor Star that while a child became ill with the potentially life-threatening type of E. coli after eating the home-prepared dish last February, there’s no way to know for sure whether the food was the source of the illness.

“There’s no confirmation, per se. The actual food itself was prepared in someone’s home. It wasn’t bought as kibbeh, it was just bought as meat,” he said. “There was no real solid connection between them.”

In fact, it’s almost impossible to verify the source of any food-borne illness with certainty. Six people reported food poisoning to the Windsor health unit between April 1 and June 30, 2012, but  inspectors ruled the complaints unsubstantiated after investigating the establishments that served the food, according to information obtained by The Star through an access to information request.

That information was not easy to obtain. In early July, after the health unit imposed restrictions on the sale of raw kibbeh, The Star asked Medical Officer of Health Allen Heimann and health inspection department manager Mike Tudor for records of complaints about food-borne illness in the second quarter of 2012 and filed a freedom of information request after they declined to provide them, citing privacy reasons.

Almost five months later, after The Star appealed the health unit’s decision to deny the records, the organization revealed a few pieces of information about the complaints during a mediation session co-ordinated by the Ontario information and privacy commissioner. Four were about handwashing and four were from restaurant customers who said they found something unsanitary in their food, in addition to the six complaints from people who believe they became sick after eating tainted food.

Dana Young, a lawyer representing the health unit, said she was reluctant to provide details about the complaints — such as what unsanitary objects people said they found in their food — because they might identify the restaurant or the person making the complaint. Young and a group of high-ranking WECHU staff members agreed to compile a chart with generic information about the complaints, which was completed and in the mail on Friday, according to the mediator.

Health unit CEO Gary Kirk said he was concerned about releasing inaccurate information to the public. Unless a person who gets sick from tainted food keeps both a sample of the food and a stool sample for testing, it’s impossible to know for sure whether that food caused the illness.

“If we were to name the establishment where these complaints were lodged, we might mistakenly impugn someone’s reputation, because the follow-up didn’t indicate where there was a problem,” he said. ”That’s at the heart of our concern.”

Yet that’s exactly the type of unsubstantiated complaint held up by the health unit in support of banning an entire traditional dish from restaurants. When asked why the WECHU believes that particular complaint warranted such drastic action, but considers similar complaints in Windsor too unreliable to release to the public, Tudor, the health inspection department manager, said kibbeh was on the health unit’s radar anyway.


Kibbeh kontroversy: is raw hamburger banned in Ontario or not? And how should the rules be enforced

A month after an Ontario health unit decided to enforce a ban on kibbeh – a Lebanese dish made from raw hamburger – one restaurant says it will serve the dish processed instead of ground, sidestepping regulations.

Mazaar restaurant co-owner Imad Najjar told the Windsor Star, "I’m going to serve it until a food processor or a mincer is called a grinder."

Dr. Allen Heimann, Windsor-Essex County chief medical officer, responded, "If meat is sliced thinly while raw, like ceviche, which is Italian, it is not in violation of the regulations. But if it is raw ground meat, then that’s something entirely different."

The latest statements cap weeks of uncertainty, bungling and bad food safety advice.

It began in late June when Windsor-Essex County Health Unit inspectors began forcing Lebanese restaurants to pull product after a report of contaminated raw kibbeh in Ottawa late last year.

Provincial regulations require ground meat cooked to an internal temperature of at least 71 C for at least 15 seconds.

Medical officer Heimann then went on the record to state, “regardless of the popularity of a product, public safety must be my priority.

“Raw kibbeh and steak tartare are raw ground meat dishes that do not conform to section 33(7) paragraph 3 of Ontario Regulation 562, of The Food Premises Regulation.

“This section of the regulation states that all parts of ground meat (other than ground meat containing poultry) must be cooked to reach an internal temperature of at least 71 C for at least 15 seconds. Ground meat containing poultry must be cooked to at least 74 C for at least 15 seconds.

“On July 10, a teleconference was held to discuss the issue with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and several other health units, including Ottawa, Toronto and London.

“All of the participating health units confirmed they do not allow the serving of raw ground meat in restaurants. The teleconference group further agreed to continue to review this issue in accordance with the Food Premises Regulation.”

And then things got really confusing.

An Ottawa resident wrote, “The regulation Heimann keeps quoting, that ground meat should be cooked to 71 C, deals with store-bought ground meat that was never intended and should not be used for raw consumption. Kibbeh, tartare and carpaccio do not fall into this category, as any foodie (or 15 seconds on Google) could tell you.”

Raw is raw.

A local medical doctor wrote that he’s never seen a case of E. coli from kibbeh, and that, “if you really wanted to prevent this infection in our community, perhaps Big Brother should ban travel to Mexico.”

It didn’t take long for a raw milk proponent to jump in and argue freedom of choice should apply to all foods.

Maybe. But don’t serve it to kids. The Ontario government needs to come clean on what the rules are and how they should be enforced without leaving local inspectors as the arbiters for bureaucratic indecision.

Do Ontario bureaucrats think it’s OK to serve raw hamburger to children?

The other thing about food bans is enforcement.

It’s a simple question: does the Ontario government think it’s OK to serve raw hamburger to little kids?

Apparently it does.

The Windsor Star (that’s in Ontario, Canada) reports that “in June 2006, inspectors from the local health unit poured bleach on egg salad sandwiches made by volunteers at the annual Art in the Park festival. They deemed the action necessary to protect public safety.

“The fact that the inspectors saw the sandwiches – sold to help raise funds for Willistead Manor – as a health threat sparked widespread community outrage. It even prompted a sharp rebuke from then-health minister George Smitherman who called the action "asinine."

Except the local folks were doing their job.

“Now the health unit has decided to set its sights on kibbeh – a traditional Lebanese dish of raw ground meat – and ordered restaurants to take the popular food off their menus.”

“It’s understandable why local restaurateurs feel blindsided by the health unit’s decision. As Ministry of Health and Long-term Care spokesperson Zita Astravas told The Star, the province hasn’t banned the preparation of raw kibbeh anywhere.

“And why would it? Kibbeh remains a highly popular dish with customers of all backgrounds.

“In fact, there’s been no documented problem with kibbeh in any restaurant here, or anywhere else in Ontario for that matter.”

There are lots of problems with raw anything. Seek and ye shall find. This is probably more about how terrible surveillance is in Ontario.

But watch bureaucracy in action – and have some sympathy and tea for front-line inspectors who carry out enforcement at the whim of dithering bosses.

“Dr. Allen Heimann, Windsor-Essex County chief medical officer, confirmed the Ottawa incident prompted local action. Heimann said that Ontario regulations stipulate beef must be cooked to an internal temperature of 71 C for 15 seconds before public consumption.

“However, Rishma Govani, Toronto Public Health spokesperson, said that regulation refers specifically to serving cooked meat, and that’s something Toronto’s health unit takes into account when reviewing traditionally prepared ethnic foods.”

There’s science, there’s culture and there’s outbreaks. I wouldn’t advise anyone eat raw hamburger. Bureaucrats need to be clear about the rules – but that’s how to survive in bureaucracy; a bureaucrat survives by vagueness.

Chef serves up raw meat protest in Windsor

A chef in Windsor (that’s in Canada, across the river from Detroit, where they have a decent hockey team) is going to serve raw meat dishes lamb tartare and lamb Carpaccio this Canada Day weekend to protest local health types banning the raw beef dish kibbeh from a handful of Lebanese restaurants and steak tartare from another.

“Until an inspector tells me to stop, I’ll keep serving it. And if they tell me to stop, I will probably still do it,” said Rino Bortolin.

Lawyers, open your bank accounts.

Bortolin called the Windsor Essex County Health Unit unit “culturally insensitive” to "hard-working small businesses."

“Certain preparations have been accepted for years and pose no harm when done properly. Those have been on menus for decades,” Bortolin said. “These meats and dishes have been prepared and eaten this way for centuries.”

Bortolin said the health unit has overreacted to an incident in Ottawa.

In February, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a media release warning customers to not consume finely ground beef sold at New Middleast Supermarket in Ottawa.

“The affected ground beef is a finely ground raw beef known to be used for Kebbeh,” the release said.

The release never mentioned a restaurant. In an email sent Wednesday, CBC News asked the CFIA why it made reference to a specific dish. The agency has not responded.

The owner of the New Middleast Supermarket told CBC News that he didn’t sell the beef to restaurants and that the meat in question was consumed by a customer.

“If it’s the source material, investigate that source and fix that problem,” Bortolin said.

Chief medical officer Dr. Allen Heimann said beef must be cooked to an internal temperature of 71 C for 15 seconds before public consumption.

Bortolin contends the law does not prohibit him from serving raw meat, only that he must "be aware of susceptible segments of society," such as children and the sick.

Bortolin said he hasn’t yet heard the reason behind the health unit’s sudden enforcement. He said he’s not aware of anyone in Windsor getting sick after eating kibbeh at a restaurant.

He said before ordering, customers should ask when a restaurant’s meat arrived and where it came from.

“I welcome people asking questions,” he said. “All my meat comes fresh from Essex County. We do that for a reason.”

I wouldn’t eat there.

One star sucks in restaurant inspection; I want 5 on my forehead

Sewage backups in food storage areas. Restaurants with sleeping quarters. Unclean staff members. Unsanitary premises.

Windsor-area food establishments have now been busted — publicly — by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit for food safety infractions.

Food safety ratings of hundreds of establishments are officially available online for the first time today. The ratings use a star system to denote the level of food safety witnessed by health unit inspectors at the time of inspection. A rating of five stars reflects excellent compliance with the province’s food regulations, while fewer stars reflects a lower degree of compliance.

Of the 1,806 establishments rated on the Safe Food Counts website Thursday, seven establishments got a one-star rating, which is classified as “needs improvement” by the health unit.

The Sun Hong Restaurant on 2045 Wyandotte Street West in Windsor, Ontario (that’s in Canada) on September 9. and a handful of others around the city, received a one-star health inspection rating by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (left, photo by Ben Nelms, The Windsor Star).

Eight establishments received a two-star rating, described as “fair,” 39 got three stars, or a “good” rating, and the remainder received four or five stars, classified as “very good” and “excellent.”

The Royal Pita Bakery at 701 Wyandotte St. E., was closed by the health unit in June after inspectors deemed it an “immediate health hazard.”

In 2008, the Ontario Public Health Standards mandated all health units to publicly disclose food safety inspection results. The local health unit began its Safe Food Counts program in 2009. The health unit website states that though the scores are reflective of food safety conditions at the time of the inspection, "the score may not reflect the overall, long-term standards of the business. It also does not represent the quality (e.g., taste, nutrition, customer service, etc.) of the food served at the premises."

The food safety ratings can be viewed online at www.safefoodcounts.ca.

Stars for food safety ratings in Windsor, Ontario

Are stars better than grades or numbers or colors or smiley faces when posting the results of restaurant inspections?

That research has yet to be done, but Windsor (that’s in Ontario, Canada)

Dr. Allen Heimann, the medical officer of health, writes in the ironically named newspaper, the Windsor Star, that a five-star rating system was adopted last year and is intended to be representative of how closely food premises owners/operators follow food safety standards.

The results of this new program have been overwhelmingly positive. More than 95 per cent of food premises have either four or five stars.

If you don’t see a star sign posted, ask to see it. If it’s unavailable, you can choose to either purchase your food without knowing the rating, or search for the rating online first.

In fall 2010, the second phase of the SFC program will be in effect with the new website, which will allow you to search from home for any food premises and have instant access to its star rating and an inspection report.

Each report will list the concerns a health inspector had during their inspection, as well as an explanation of each.

Visit the SFC website at http://www.safefoodcounts.ca.

Restaurant inspection disclosure widely popular in Windsor, Ontario

Like pretty much every other county or town that has implemented some form of restaurant inspection disclosure, the system is way popular in Windsor, Ontario.

About 1,300 locations have been inspected under the star ratings, including all of the premises in the highest-risk categories, said Deb Bennett, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit’s health protection director.

“We’ve gone six months now with the star ratings. What we’ve seen is much positive comment from owners and consumers,” Bennett said.

The 500 premises still to be inspected with star ratings are all considered low-risk and include establishments such as convenience stores.

“We have seen a dramatic improvement in the level of compliance,” she said.

As well, she said she’s hearing more from restaurants about receiving four stars when they expected five than from locations with fewer stars. The places seem to accept their lower ratings, she said.

Enzo Mancuso, who owns Mancuso’s Trattoria, 555 Erie St. E.  said,

“It’s like anything else, sooner or later you get used to it.”

His restaurant recently received its second five-star rating since they were introduced. Customers applauded when they saw him receive an inspection notice with the stars, which he can post in his window.

But this last bit sucks.

Customers may not know about a restaurant’s inspection and rating, and Bennett said the health unit will focus on efforts to make the public aware they can find out by contacting the health unit.

Market food safety achievements. People may be more concerned about whether their food will make them barf or not.