By Jessica Lovell
In the area covered by the local health unit, there are about 1,320 food premises – restaurants, fast-food joints, cafeteria kitchens and the like. For Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health, this translates into about 2,500 health inspections each year.
The public can now check out the results of those inspections – finding out things like whether the cook at a favourite restaurant has washed his hands – before going out to eat.
“The impact we anticipate is that the public will view the inspection results to help make an informed decision prior to attending the food premises and that operators will be more diligent in their operation to ensure compliance with the food premises regulations,” said manager of health protection Shawn Zentner.
Launched today (Feb. 7), the website checkbeforeyouchoose.ca allows the public to search by restaurant name or by map and location.
“Any infraction noted on the inspection will be listed on the site by date of inspection,” said Zentner in an email to the Tribune.
Critical infractions – those that pose an immediate risk of food-borne illness – include things like hazardous foods not being cooked to the correct temperature, or contamination of ready-to-eat foods by raw meats. They could also include staff not washing their hands before handling food, or a rodent infestation.
Non-critical infractions, not posing an immediate risk to public health, include non-food contact surfaces in need of cleaning, hairnets not being worn by food handlers, or garbage not being taken out. These will be noted for everything from hotdog carts to restaurants, banquet halls, school cafeterias and grocery stores.
The infractions listed on the site will include those resulting from routine compliance inspections – a certain number of which are required annually, depending on the risk level of the food premises – and re-inspections.
The info will date back to Oct. 1, 2012, and, going forward, the health unit will keep a two-year history on the site, Zentner said.
Inspections that the health unit does based on complaints from the public will not show up, however. Nor will the complaints.
“We don’t include complaints in the website, because the complaint may not be justified or necessarily even result in an inspection,” Zentner said.
This is common practice among other health units that have such disclosure systems, he said.
But he also noted: “If there is a complaint and the public health inspector notes issues or infractions, they are always followed up on. If it was serious enough to result in a closure order or ticket, this would be displayed on the website.”
These serious infractions are fairly rare. Fewer than five tickets were issued last year, said Zentner.
Closures are usually the result of an issue like lack of potable water, rather than sanitation, he said.
When a restaurant has been inspected, it will get a sign, which can be placed in the window or hung up in the restaurant, but this is voluntary.
“There will be a QR code to link people to our disclosure page,” said Zentner.
Based on feedback from operators, the sign was simplified and made transparent to “blend in more with the aesthetics of the premises,” he said. Restaurant operators can also choose between window clings and business card-size signs, so they have options.
“Since we based those options on operator feedback, we’re confident they will display the sign,” Zentner said. It may also be desirable to a restaurant if it passes inspection without infractions.
But the site is about more than just letting people know where they can find a clean, safe place to get a bite.
“We hope that the site will increase the public’s understanding of the importance of food safety and that they will not only look for this when eating out, but also incorporate it into their behaviour when preparing food for themselves and their family,” Zentner said.
The health unit also envisions the site going beyond food in the future.
“We intend to add other types of inspections, and consequently types of premises to our website,” Zentner explained. “Part of the reason we chose the name ‘Check Before You Choose’ is that it is not food-specific and lends itself to incorporating premises like pools, or personal services premises such as tattoo parlours.”