Opinion

It’s up to us to keep people from making us sick

From grocery stores to restaurants, roadside fruit stands to catered banquets, any business with a license to sell food to the public is periodically inspected to ensure they are following appropriate and adequate safety measures. You probably knew that.

But did you know you have access to those reports?

I recently went through them. Yes, I looked at the recent history of the health inspections done on all 223 of the licensed food service establishments in Campbell River.

Food Hazard Ratings are given to every business after an inspection, reflecting the general level of satisfaction the inspector has with the operation at the time of inspection. A rating of Low, according to the branch of VIHA who issues the reports, means, “the food facility was in good compliance with the Food Regulation and the health inspector believes there are no food safety issues that require attention.

A rating of Moderate, “indicates the food facility has some minor food safety issues that can be eliminated with immediate attention by the operator.”

A High rating, “indicates there are significant food safety issues and the restaurant may be ordered closed if the operator does not take immediate action to correct them.”

These general ratings are somewhat misleading, however. If you want to look up your favourite restaurant’s health reports (and you should—we’ll get to that later), you need to go into each inspection’s report and analyze a degree or two further.

For example, an establishment with a moderate hazard rating may have received only non-critical violations such as, “Improper Construction/Maintenance of Establishment,” which sounds bad at first until you read that they got that violation because the shelf with the cleaning supplies is too high and they need to use a step stool to get to them. An establishment who received a Moderate rating had a few such violations, however, and some of them are obviously more troubling than others.

What I’m saying is that you have to read these things with a critical and contextualized eye.

You should also not just be looking at the most recent report, and instead look for trends or repeated violations, which may imply a systemic issue or behavioural tendencies on the part of the establishment. These are bad.

For example, if an establishment is repeatedly receiving violations that read, “Improper Cleaning, Sanitizing of Equipment and Utensils,” or, “Inadequate Cooling & Refrigeration of Potentially Hazardous Food(s),” which are Critical Violations, there are issues significantly above and beyond needing to replace their cutting boards or a waitress leaving her purse on the counter too close to the handwashing sink.

The long and short of my argument is this: We have access to these reports, and we should use that fact to force food and beverage service facilities to step up their games and avoid hazardous situations that endanger the health of the community.

We do that by telling them with our spending (or lack of) that we won’t stand for them slacking off and putting us at risk.

Read the reports. Read them fully, in context, and consider the infractions that they are exposing. Is it possible they were just having an off day? Maybe. You can read between the lines, though.

A broken ice machine on the day of the inspection will be a violation, but I personally wouldn’t put it in the same category as, “Significant cleanliness issues,” despite it falling under the same category in the report itself (non-critical).

Still don’t care? Okay, what if I told you that there were 32 establishments that received Moderate or High Hazard Ratings on their most recent inspection reports?

That’s about 14 per cent of every food service business in town failing their inspection by various degrees.

I’ll leave you to your reading now.

You can find them at healthspace.ca/viha under the link aptly named, “Food Facility Inspections.”

 

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