Brendan Wedley of the Peterborough Examiner (ON) reports that church suppers, service group dinners, strawberry socials and other community fundraising events would have been subject to stringent new regulations and inspections by public health inspectors.
Church suppers and other events have been exempt from Ontario’s food regulations.
Health Minister George Smitherman announced he will wait until at least the fall to regulate food sold at farmers’ markets and that the province will write regulations specifically for farmers’ markets.
The public is at risk of consuming contaminated food because of changes made to Ontario’s food rules, Peterborough’s medical officer of health warns.
As of June 15, farmers’ markets, religious organizations and service clubs received exemptions under provincial legislation regulating the preparation and sale of food.
People could be harmed if they eat food that has been contaminated because it was not prepared or stored properly, Dr. Garry Humphreys said.
“There is a potential here that some foods are going to be consumed that are probably not safe under the exemptions that the government has created,” he said. “People will assume the food is safe and it may not be.”
Farmers’ markets and other organizations had been under the same restrictions as supermarkets and restaurants. Officials had been doing random inspections and holding them all to the same standard.
Humphreys said there have never been many problems here because the Peterborough County-City Health Unit works well with churches and farmers’ markets.
But people have to be aware that food-borne illnesses are a danger, he said.
“Last year, we had some turkeys prepared for a church supper and they were prepared in two private uninspected residences,” he said.
“Unfortunately, people ate them, I think there were 70 involved, and at least 32 became ill with vomiting, diarrhea and fever.”
As of June 15, farmers’ markets are exempt from the food rules and events such as church suppers are also excused but have to post a sign warning people the event has not been inspected.
It’s unfortunate the medical officers’ council has come out against the exemptions, said Malcolm MacDonald, Saturday Farmers’ Market president.
“As far as I understand, there have been no instances of it, it’s always just the possibility, but there’s also the possibility we’re going to get run over crossing the street,” he said.
“Most of our products, you’re buying the same thing at the supermarket – perhaps a little better quality, we hope, than what you would get at a store – and it is local.”
MacDonald said while farmers’ markets are exempt from the food rules, vendors must follow strict regulations when they are making products such as honey.
Vendors who sell baked goods must show a health inspection certificate for their kitchen before they can get a booth at the market, MacDonald said.