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System has faults, says local eatery owner 0

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

QMI Agency File Photo

QMI Agency File Photo

Depending on where you eat, it’s very much a diner-beware world out there.

Local eatery owner Monti Hannona has seen a few questionable practices in her visits to area eating establishments that have turned her into a woman with a mission.

Hannona wants a red, green or yellow card window system in Simcoe County, much like the DineSafe program running in Toronto.

Hannona said she’s spotted several crucial infractions at local restaurants, including improper food storage, food stored on the floor, cross-contamination between meats, lack of personal hygiene and hand-washing, and concerns about pests or rodents.

“I’m not talking about fixing your plumbing, or a little bit of wear and tear, we all get that. But I’ve seen people moving raw chicken in the trunk of their car on a hot day,” she said.

Hannona said she’s a bit of a clean freak, but added she expects to be treated as well as she treats her customers.

“I wouldn’t ask anybody to do something I don’t do myself,” she said.

Hannona has started a Facebook petition at change.org to gather signatures of other Simcoe County residents who would like to see a dining-room rating system implemented in the area.

Tony Makrostergios, the food and rabies co-ordinator with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said the area doesn’t have a DineSafe program like Toronto’s because Simcoe County encompasses dozens of municipalities that would each have to initiate individual bylaws to institute such a system.

The health unit has 20 inspectors dedicated to ensuring food safety at about 4,000 establishments across the county each year, he said.

“We are responsible for complaints and we investigate all reports within 24 hours,” Makrostergios said.

He said depending on the severity of the complaint, a broken floor board versus a broken refrigerator, they’ll give owners 24 to 48 hours to fix the problems. Fines range from $90 to $450 per offence.

“If you get six or seven larger tickets, the fines could be in the thousands,” he said, adding, they closed four establishments completely in 2012.

While they don’t have a ready list of restaurants that would be on a repeat offender list, Makrostergios said prospective diners can call the health unit to inquire about an establishment’s current record and previous infractions.

They’re currently working on implementing a web-based grading system that he expects will be available soon.

In Toronto, Sylvanus Thompson of the Toronto Public Health Unit, said they know their DineSafe program works at keeping owners on their toes.

Designed on a points system for minor, significant or crucial infringements, after investigating a dining premise, Toronto inspectors will offer a green card for compliance, a yellow cautionary card to get things cleaned up, or a red card, closing down the establishment for several serious — or crucial —infractions.

The cards must be displayed prominently in the store’s front window.

Thompson said they started the program in 2001, and posted a survey in 2004 with owners, customers and health unit staff that showed everyone involved approved of the new system.

“In 2001, we went from 78% compliance to now in 2013, we currently have 90% plus compliance,” Thompson said, adding, “Operators said it was the fear of the yellow report card that made them work harder to be compliant. They will do everything they can do to not get the yellow card.”

Problem properties with three or more conditional passes are sent to the municipal licensing standard department with the possibility of having their license revoked.

“But we’d much rather work with them and educate them about the industry,” he said.

In the Peel region, the FoodCheck Peel program started in 2005. With 52 inspectors investigating 5,354 restaurants and other eating establishments, they too, hand out yellow cards for non-compliance.

Their survey conducted in 2007-2008 found that 81% of residents responded they ‘felt safer making food purchases after the program was in place’.

In Innisfil, Dan Davidson said he doesn’t believe another level of bureaucracy is necessary. His restaurant, Davidson’s on Big Bay Point Road in Innisfil, is inspected four times each year and his staff have their individual food safety certificates.

“Unfortunately, in Toronto, it was a lot of ethnic-based places that were complained about and I know some of them never opened up again,” Davidson said.

“You get these chronic complainers, some of them competitors, and they can cause trouble.

“Some municipalities even have bylaws against nuisance complainers because they’ve experienced that problem,” he said.

For more information on Hannona’s social media petition, visit Facebook and search for http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/simcoe-county-public-health-dinesafe-inspection-and-disclosure-system.

cheryl.browne@sunmedia.ca

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