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Saturday, 11 April 2015

Dine Safe in Toronto - Food Safety Inspection

Public Health Inspectors found more than the typical rats and roaches during inspection

Jim Chan

Toronto DineSafe 

There are so many eateries in Toronto no matter which part of the city you live in. According to Toronto Public Health's DineSafe Toronto inspection program data, there are over 17,000 food establishments serving fine cuisines in the City of Toronto.

It doesn’t matter if it is the donut shop you pick up coffee, corner store where you buy your milk, the Chinese BBQ restaurant where ducks and roasted pork hanging in the window, the fancy and pricey restaurant in the business district, or just to pick up a quick jerk chicken at 2 AM

from the street food truck in the club district after a night of partying, even just taking a boat cruise ride along the water front enjoying a nice meal and a drink. Wherever you get your food in this city, public health inspectors have been there to do compliance inspections, to educate food services staff about safe food handling practices and basic sanitation requirements and to enforce food safety regulations. The goal is to reduce the foodborne illness risk and making sure what you are eating won't make you sick.

What the public health inspector looks for in a food establishment?

Inspector always check for crucial and significant Infractions such as refrigerators or the dishwasher not working properly, food contamination, food left at room temperature for too long, no hot and cold water for hand and utensil washing, lack of safe water, dirty kitchen,
sewage backup, active pest infestations with rats, mice and cockroaches running around, or any other condition that is a health hazard. 

If the establishment is in full compliant during the inspection, the operator will earn a good inspection report and a green pass to post at the window to show the customer the eatery passed a health inspection. But this is not always the case as public health inspectors often find more than the typical rats and roaches, sometimes they just don’t believe their eyes when they walk in and find out the operator does not seem to know the basic food safety and sanitary requirements.

In some cases, when the inspectors open the refrigerator and see raw meat hanging above ready-to-eat food like potato salad right below, food in hot holding table sitting in the Danger Zone, food contact surfaces such as cutting boards not being cleaned and sanitized regularly, or there is a large dead rodent under the kitchen table. All these infractions can increase food poisoning risk. So, what is the usual excuse from the operator? 

Very often when confronted by the public health inspector, the operator would say 'I work in the restaurant for 10 or 15 hours a day and I don't think my restaurant is dirty and I don't see the rodents running around' or 'Hey inspector, thanks for finding this rat problem, I have no idea where they came from?'. 

More photos on food safety inspection, please check the following link:
Dirty Dining - What really going on behind the kitchen door in a restaurant?

So what does it take for a food establishment to get shut down by Public Health Inspector?

During a routine inspection when the inspector observes serious food safety infractions such as the refrigeration is way above 4˚C/40˚F , and on top of that, the inspector starts seeing evidence of a pest infestation like rodent droppings, rats, mice running around, cockroaches walking on food products, cross-contamination between raw meat and ready-to-eat food items, garbage all over the kitchen floor, cooked food sitting at room temperature in the Danger Zone for hours, mouldy or rotting food in storage area,  leaky plumbing or sewage back-up.

If the inspector has reason to believe that there is evidence of a health hazard, and if it appears that the operator has made no attempt to actually control those problems, the inspector can shut down the establishment by issuing a closure order and posting a red closure sign at the window.

The operator has to shut down the business and can not open until a re-inspection to confirm everything is done. Repeat offenders may also get a surprise notification from the city's Licensing Tribunal Board to have their business license reviewed and can result in a license suspension for a period of time or the license being revoked after a hearing.

Case: Summary of a repeat offender who lost the license 

A Toronto grocery store operator was charged for food safety violations and was convicted three times for selling uninspected meat and ungraded eggs, failing to ensure food is not contaminated or adulterated, unsanitary conditions, and failing to keep food wholesome. Operator was convicted in court and was fined $15,000.00.

In addition to the fines, the case was referred to the city's licensing department for a license tribunal hearing. Public Health Inspector testified at the hearing and gave detail evidence of the investigation including finding shipments of illegally slaughtered and processed chicken and ungraded eggs entering the store, the operator repacking chicken and adding fake inspection tags to  pass them as 'inspected meat products' as well as evidence of cross-contamination of food inside the refrigerator with raw meat thawing on the top shelve and raw meat juice dripping onto cooked food below. 

The tribunal board after hearing the presentation by the inspector, made the decision to revoke the operator's retail store license and shut down the store permanently.
Food safety message from Dr. Justin Beaver 

Health Inspector's Notebook

Keep food safe by Clean/Separate/Cook/Chill

Related media links on food safety inspection:

Rat problem in the city: Rat infestation in food store


  1. Toronto DineSafe is a comprehensive food safety program designed to ensure that food establishments
    in the City are in compliance with food safety requirements & laws. This is also an award-winning DineSafe food safety inspection and disclosure system. In 2010 DineSafe won the Samuel J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award for providing outstanding food protection services - the first time an organization outside the United States has won this prestigious award.In 2010 DineSafe won the Samuel J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award[3] for providing outstanding food protection services - the first time an organization outside the United States has won this prestigious award.

  2. Thanks for sharing this DineSafe inspection system, I work in food service in an area with no health inspection report posting at the restaurants, so I'm definitely cringing even if I can't really see how messy it is.

    1. Disclosure of inspection results can improve compliance & reduce food poisoning risks in restaurants and other food establishments. Owner/managers don't like to have a failed inspection sign posted for their customers to see. I still don't understand why health officials still won't implement a food safety inspection program with public disclosure (website, posting rating signs or cards) in their regions & keeping inspection reports invisible to customers or the public?

  3. Thanks for the reply, I have spoken with the health department in my region but they have no plan to post inspection signs like in New York City any time soon, too bad for the customers.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The best way to approach this issue is by speaking with local health services regularly and requesting inspection reports of food establishments that have visible food safety infractions and continue to file complaints. You may also need help from local media outlets as they may be interested in getting the health unit to disclose inspection results etc.

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  8. Is it prohibited to use roach bait such as "COMBAT"to control roaches and keep them in the ares where customers can see at Toronto restaurants ?

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