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Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Avoid contaminating food with dirty fingers when shopping in a supermarket.

Can shoppers open the produce plastic bag without licking the fingers first?

Jim Chan, Certified Public Health Inspector (Canada) Health Inspector's Notebook

September 02, 2020.

A common sight at the supermarket fruit and produce area

                                                                                                                                               (Image: Twitter)

A simple way to open a plastic produce bag without licking fingers first.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Mouse Infestation - A Food Safety Problem In Food Establishment.

Mice - The Uninvited Dinner Guests To Local Eateries

Mice can be a public health hazard as they can carry pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasite including fleas and can potentially transmit diseases from mice to humans. Mice can live and breed in houses, buildings including food establishments and other structures such as garages and storage sheds. Mice can survive on a relatively poor diet as they can eat a few grams (ounces) of food per day and can survive without daily access to water as mice can obtain water from food source they are feeding on.

Mice are excellent climbers and are capable of entering any building through a small hole that is the size of a dime (1/4 inch or 6.4 mm) or larger. Mice are nibblers and they can feed as often as 15 to 20 times each day but they left behind wastes such as droppings and urine around food they are feeding on. The average lifespan of a mouse is approx. 12 months and a single female mouse may have as many as 8 litters per year, averaging 5 to 6 babies in each litter, the young can start reproducing usually within 3 months.

Recently, Toronto public health inspectors closed 7 food establishments within 1 week due to pest infestation, including 5 food establishments in a Toronto Food Market building due to heavy mouse infestation as posted on DineSafe website in Toronto

(Photo: CTV News)
Full article: Food market closed by public health inspectors

Mouse control for food establishments

To prevent a mouse infestation in food establishments such as restaurants, food markets, cafe, hospital kitchens, school cafeterias, warehouses and even street food carts, vigilance is perhaps most important. In 
order to keep a food establishment rodent-free, the first step is to develop an effective rodent management, monitoring and control plan. 

Once the rodent control plan and the sanitation protocols have been established, operators have to follow them continually. Actions such as conducting daily checks and fixing problems once identified can help to bring an infestation under control in the early stage. 

Prevention is less costly and can prevent unnecessary public complaints and closure by public health inspector due to public health and food safety regulation violations as specified in Toronto Public Health's DineSafe program. The following steps can help food establishment owner and manager to operate and to maintain a rodent-free establishment.

Monitor the property for mouse activities

  • Monitor the establishment for for signs of mouse activities. Look for droppings, burrows, chewed or gnawed holes in bags and boxes containing food or
    garbage, gnaw marks on walls and surfaces in all areas of the food establishment. (photo - right)
  • Mice love to nest in locations close to food, spaces in double walls, between ceilings and floors and under and behind counters. 
  • Inspect and keep the exterior perimeter and the garbage storage area free of junk, weeds and debris to eliminate rodent nesting areas.
  • Mouse droppings around food can be a good indication of an active mouse infestation (photos - below).

Improve sanitation, eliminate food and nesting sites 

  • Secure and cover garbage or waste containers to prevent rodents from getting food. Use rodent-proof bins with tight-fitting lids.
  • Get rid of junks and clutter to prevent hiding spots.
  • Eliminate food source for mice. Since the contributing factor to a mouse infestation is the presence of food, always store foods in sealed containers and never leave unprotected food out overnight as this can attract and provide a food source to mice. 
  • Keep kitchen areas clean, especially food preparation, storage and serving areas.
  • Seal all openings to the outside, especially around doors and windows.

Prevent mice from entering food establishment

  • Inspect the outside of the food establishment to identify rodent entry points, including small holes the size of a dime (1/4 inch or 6.4 mm).
  • Use heavy gauge wire mesh to cover vents or large openings.
  • Use metal sheeting to cover holes.
  • Keep garbage area clean as spilled garbage, food waste, grease, liquid waste and junk can provide food and nesting area for rodent. (photo below)

Hire a licensed pest control professional to provide rodent control treatment

  • Ensure the bait stations used by the pest control professional are enclosed and locked, and placed in areas that are inaccessible to customers, especially children.
  • Most pest control companies use bait blocks (anticoagulant) to control rodents (mice and rats), ensure they are secured with wire and not placed around food and utensils to prevent contamination.
  • Be aware that poison bait can lead to secondary poisoning if placed outside the food establishment such as the garbage storage area (for example, wild animals or dogs and cats may become ill after eating rodents poisoned by bait).

Continue to monitor the effectiveness of the control measures

  • Conduct daily inspection throughout the food establishment to identify new evidence of rodent activities and to maintain a clean, sanitary environment. 
  • Clean up rodent droppings as soon as they are observed so that detecting any new activity is apparent.
  • Continue to maintain sanitation and rodent proofing as preventive strategies.

How to get a PASS from public health inspector 

on your next restaurant inspection


(Photo and comics from Health Inspector's Notebook)

Sunday, 9 July 2017

What Colour Red Meat Should Be?

Beef Colour and Food Safety
by Jim Chan, Public Health Inspector (Retired)

(photo by Richard Yang)
When purchasing packaged fresh beef in a food store or supermarket, make sure the package is cold and the meat is firm. Inspect the packaging to ensure it is in good condition and should not have holes in the wrapping material. Also check the packaging date or the best before date  (or use by date) to ensure getting freshly packaged beef. 

Good quality beef should have a rich, vibrant, reddish colour (photo right) but packaged beef  can sometimes turn from red to an un-appetising bluish-red or greyish colour.

When off-colour meat products such as steaks, roasts and ground beef are left in the store or supermarket refrigerator, sometimes customers would complain to public health department about store selling "bad" meat.

No need to worry as discolouration of beef indicates a lack of exposure to oxygen due to the packaging. The beef will change to a brighter red colour (photo below) once it is removed from the packaging and expose to air. 

What causes beef to change colour? Has it gone bad?

(photo by Erika Bartels)
Beef, especially ground beef often undergo discolouration prior to spoilage but still safe to eat after cooking to a safe internal temperature 71°C (160°F). Beef contains a pigment in the muscle tissues called Myoglobin and this pigment is normally a dark greyish-purple colour.

After cutting or slicing, the beef comes into contact with oxygen and turns myoglobin into
oxy-myoglobin through oxidation. Oxy-myoglobin is a deep red colour pigment that gives beef the supermarket "fresh red meat look". 

When freshly cut or ground beef is packed into an air tight package or vacuumed bag, the beef can turn into a greyish colour when deprived of oxygen, especially when kept in the package for a few days. Problem is, consumers do not find greyish colour beef very appetising as they often associate greyish colour as spoilage and off-colour meat as rotten meat. So for the purpose of merchandising, the store often infused meat packaging or bag with oxygen or other gases (nitrogen, carbon dioxide) to prevent discolouration of beef (photo below). 

Is the off-colour beef still safe to eat or should you throw it out?  

(photo by Erika Bartels)
Even if there is a colour change in the beef, which might not be as visually appetising but the meat is still fine to eat. However, make sure the beef is stored properly in the refrigerator or freezer and consumed within a short period of time. Always cook meat to a safe internal temperature, especially for ground beef items such as burger and meat loaf that should be cooked to an internal temperature of 71°C (160°F) (Safe cooking temperatures). 

However, if the package of beef is off-colour all the way through and does not turn red when exposed to air within fifteen to twenty minutes, it is most likely spoiled and can increase the risk of food poisoning. Also, spoiled beef usually has a sulphurous or foul smell and often with a slimy surface and should be tossed

Food Safety - BBQ and Grilling 

Safe cooking temperature of meat 

Food safety at home by Dr. Justin Beaver

Related links

BBQ Food Safety

Food Safety - Ground Beef, USDA

Gas mixtures help preserve the quality of packaged meat

Color of Meat and Poultry - USDA Food Safety

Meat Packaging

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

How safe is the ice in your drink?

Food safety issues with contaminated ice  
by Jim Chan - Public Health Inspector (Retired)

A report in United Kingdom recently raised concerns around ice contaminated with bacteria being used in making of drinks and food. The investigation revealed that some ice samples collected from fast food restaurants and cafes tested positive for the bacteria known as faecal coliforms as well as high levels of bacteria. This finding certainly had the consumers questioning the quality, safety and sanitation of the ice in their beverages and food.

(Reprint: BBC News article)

Faecal bacteria 'in ice in Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero'

  • 28 June 2017
  • From the sectionBusiness

coffee cupsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Ice from three of the UK's biggest coffee chains has been found to contain bacteria from faeces, according to a BBC investigation.
Samples of iced drinks from Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffe Nero contained varying levels of the bacteria, the BBC's Watchdog found. Expert Tony Lewis said the levels found were "concerning". "These should not be present at any level - never mind the significant numbers found," he added. Cleanliness of tables, trays and high chairs at the chains was also tested at 30 branches. Seven out of 10 samples of Costa ice were found to be contaminated with bacteria found in faeces. At both Starbucks and Caffe Nero, three out of 10 samples tested contained the bacteria known as faecal coliforms.
Mr Lewis, of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said these kinds of bacteria were "opportunistic pathogens - the source of human disease". Costa said it had updated its ice-handling guidelines and was in the process of introducing new ice equipment storage. Starbucks said it was now conducting its own investigation into the claims. A spokesman said the chain took hygiene "extremely seriously".
Similarly, a Caffe Nero spokesman said "a thorough investigation" was under way, and that the chain would take "appropriate action".

How safe is the ice in you ice coffee?
The presence of contaminants such as bacteria in ice manufactured in food establishments can be a serious food safety issue as contamination can be introduced to ice by
contaminated water supply, dirty utensils, airborne dirt, unsanitary food and ice handling problems by staff that prepare and process food and drinks. The observation of unsanitary ice handling practices indicates that there is also a potential food safety risk for pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella or Norovirus to contaminate the ice and can increase the risk for food poisoning outbreak. 

To reduce the risk of ice being a source of food poisoning, ice used in preparation and processing of food and drinks shall be made from potable water and shall be handled and stored in a sanitary manner. Most pathogenic microbes do not readily multiply in ice but scientific research has shown that some bacteria and virues can survive in freezing temperature for a long period of time. Therefore, it is important for food business operators to ensure the ice used in food and drink preparation is safe and not to become contaminated by following these tips on ice handling safety (Easy Ice).

Food Safety Tips (Video)

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Sakura - Cherry Blossoms Tour In Toronto 2017

Sakura () Cherry blossoms tour in Toronto's High Park 
Jim Chan
(Updated: April 26, 2017)

Such a nice day to welcome spring’s arrival with a tour to Toronto High Park and be part of the Japanese tradition of Hanami - cherry blossom flower viewing. This is the centuries-old practice of picnicking under a blooming cherry tree, also known as Sakura cherry tree.  The first Japanese Sakura cherry tree was planted in Toronto 1959 and it was a present from the citizens of Tokyo Japan. In 2001, an additional 34 Cherry Blossom trees were donated to High Park by the Skaura project - History of the Skaura in Toronto, and the trees have been a popular attraction to the the park ever since.

In Toronto, cherry blossoms typically bloom in late April or early May, the flowering of the cherry trees is spectacular, but peak bloom only lasts about a week depending on the weather conditions in City of Toronto. According to High Park Nature Centre, the peak bloom is expected to start this week.

Last year, many of the buds were damaged by cold weather and frost that followed an early April ice storm in the Toronto area, resulting in a disappointed year for Sakura tour. Flowering cherry blossoms will not bloom if they are affected by freezing temperatures in their early budding stage. 
(Photo taken May 2016 in Toronto High Park)

Other blooms in the park

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Food Irradiation in Canada

Food Irradiation - Can Ionizing Radiation Technique Improve Food Quality and Safety?

Iain Chan PhD Physics , Jim Chan (Certified Public Health Inspector, Canada)

The Canadian government has recently authorized the use of ionizing radiation as a technique to extend the shelf life of raw ground beef and to reduce the number of microbes
such as bacteria, molds, parasites in raw ground beef. Like milk pasteurization and food canning, irradiation, according to the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) , is another method that can make food safer for the consumer and can enhances food quality and promoting less food waste. Ionizing radiation was previously regulated in Canada for use in the prevention of potatoes and onions from sprouting in storage, to kill insect infestations in wheat and flour and to reduce microbe populations in seasonings. United States has permitted the irradiation of fresh and frozen ground beef since 1999 and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has evaluated the safety of irradiated food for over 30 years and found the process to be safe. A variety of food approved by FDA for irradiation process including beef and pork, crustaceans, fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, shell eggs, shellfish, spices and seasonings.

How is food irradiated and does irradiation make foods radioactive?
The term radiation can be intimidating to some people, but is different than something that is radioactive. While a radioactive source is used in some techniques, food products do not come into contact with radioactive material and do not become radioactive after processing.

In order to kill microbes, the food product is bombarded with ionizing radiation which knocks an electron out of an atomic or molecular orbit producing charged particles (ions) referred to as free radicals. These radicals damage the DNA of microbes so that they cannot reproduce. As a result, the growth rate of microbes is inhibited so that they are less effective at spoilage/causing illness.

How is food irradiation regulated?
In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for the enforcement of regulations relating to irradiated food products under the Food and Drugs Act and regulations state the maximum dose of ionizing radiation that can be applied to food and the foods that may be irradiated and sold in Canada.

How does food irradiation work?
The standard measurement unit for a dose of radiation is called a Gray (Gy), and is the amount of absorbed energy per kilogram of mass. One Gray is equal to 1 Joule (J) of energy per kilogram (kg) of mass. For fresh raw ground beef the maximum dose is 4.5 kGy which is equal to 4500 Joules/kg. For fresh frozen ground beef the maximum dose is 7.0 kGy, or 7000 Joules/kg.

There are three types of ionizing radiation that have been approved for use on raw ground beef:

1. Gamma radiation which is a type of high energy electromagnetic radiation produced by the decay of radioactive elements. Gamma radiation has a high penetrating power which has the advantage of treating large quantities of ground beef at once. However, the high penetrating power means that lots of shielding is required in order to ensure that workers are not exposed. Two radioactive sources have been approved for use: Colbalt-60 (60Co) and Cesium-137 (137Cs). Cesium-137 produces gamma ray photons with an energy of 0.662 MeV (0.662 million electron volts) and Colbalt-60 produces two gamma ray photons: one with an energy of 1.17 MeV (1.17 million electron volts) and one with an energy of 1.33 MeV. 

2. X-ray radiation which is also a type of high energy electromagnetic radiation, but unlike gamma radiation can be produced using non-radioactive sources. X-ray radiation is produced by bombarding a metal target (such as gold) with a beam of electrons. When electrons hit the metal target they loose energy due to their rapid deceleration, and this energy is released as x-ray radiation. The maximum energy of the x-ray photons is equal to the energy of the electron beam, which regulations limit to 7.5 MeV for gold or tantalum metal targets and 5.0 MeV for other metal targets. X-ray radiation has a high penetrating power, so large quantities of ground beef can be irradiated at once. 

3. Electron beam radiation Beam of high energy electrons produced by heating an electron source (a cathode) and applying a high voltage in order to accelerate the released electrons. The maximum energy allowed for the electron beam is set at 10 MeV. While this is a higher energy than gamma or x-ray radiation, electrons have a much lower penetrating power and are suited for treating thin samples of food.

How can consumers be able to tell what food has been irradiated?
Health Canada is responsible for regulations specifying which foods may be irradiated and the treatment levels permitted.
See the table below for the foods which may be irradiated and sold in Canada (Health Canada - Food Irradiation)

The labelling regulations as outlined in the FDR  specified that label on product package or display sign of bulk irradiated food must clearly identify and reveal the food has been irradiated with both a written statement includes words such as irradiated, treated with radiation or treated by irradiation and the international symbol. 

What food safety messages consumers need to remember about irradiated food such as ground beef?
Irradiated raw ground beef does not guarantee zero risk as the process greatly reduces microbes, including pathogenic bacteria such as E.coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and parasites which can cause food borne diseases, to enhance food quality by extending product shelf-life and creating less food waste. However, irradiated raw ground beef can sill contain pathogen and consumer can be infected by handling raw ground beef without washing hands afterwards and by eating undercooked ground beef. Consumer must remember to handle, store and process food properly, cook ground beef to a safe internal temperature (CFIA)  and always apply the rules of safe food handling to prevent foodborne diseases. 

  1. M. Rocelle S. Clavero, J. David Monk, Larry R. Beuchat, Michael P. Doyle and Robert E. Brackett, Inactivation of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonellae and Campylobacter jejuni in Raw Ground Beef by Gamma Irradiation; Applied and Evironmental Microbiology, Vol. 50 No. 6, page 2069, June 1994
  2. Frances Elizabeth DeRuiter and Johanna Dwyer, Consumer acceptance of irradiated foods: dawn of a new era?; Food Service Technology, Vol 2, page 47, June 2002
  3. Government of Canada Website:
  4. World Health Organization Report:
Media links