Donna Taylor of the Stratford Beacon-Herald reports that public health inspectors have been a hot topic surrounding the legislation changes for food inspections at farmers’ markets and other special events. Unfortunately many negative statements have been made, most recently in the column written by Bob Reid entitled Home-cooking for Charity Under Siege” in your Thursday, June 22 edition. I would like to comment on some of his points.
First and foremost, public health inspectors have the health of the public in mind. One of the things we do is protect the oldest, youngest, and weakest through food safety inspections at nursing homes, day-care centres and hospitals, not to mention the kitchens at kids’ camps that feed thousands of children every year. We believe families expect that their loved ones’ health is being protected.
In addition to inspections, we regularly offer food safety training to local food service operators so they can understand the “why” behind provincial food safety regulations. Public health inspectors do not prey on fundraising events, nor do they wish to shut events down. Inspectors work alongside the community to provide the safest and most successful events possible. In 2005, the Perth District Health Unit was involved with 67 special events across the county and another 31 so far this year. Though Mr. Reid may not recall an incident of food-borne illness in his community, food-borne illness is a real threat to the public’s health. There are thousands of reported cases of food-borne illness in Ontario each year and many more go unreported or are dismissed as “the stomach flu.” In fact, 64 per cent of food-borne illnesses originate from home-prepared foods which means that large-scale outbreaks could result if home-cooked meals were served to people in settings outside the home. In May of this year, 72 people became ill because of contaminated gravy at a church function in Grey County when an uninspected caterer prepared the food in her own home.
Lastly, Mr. Reid describes an episode where sandwiches for sale at a fundraising event were discarded by a health inspector and covered with bleach. It is not an uncommon practice for public health inspectors to ensure food that has been deemed unfit for consumption is destroyed. On rare occasions, public health inspectors, including myself, have encountered food premise operators removing food from the garbage. I can still picture the two operators inside the dumpster salvaging the seven chickens I had thrown out an hour earlier. Public health inspectors are being diligent when they ensure food is properly destroyed. I invite Mr. Reid to visit the health unit to see how we conduct ourselves here. He will see that we are not heartless “bureaucratic clones” as he suggests in his column, but individuals working together to help protect the health of Perth County residents.