Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Dinner reservations


It never ceases to amaze the number of restaurants, bars, delis and takeout operations that are routinely cited for food-safety infractions.

For Whistler, there are 11 pages of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) inspections where you can research an establishment's history of infractions — even before you make the reservation for dinner or order for pickup.

It is fascinating, if only to reveal that the higher price point is no guarantee that food is prepared safely and properly.

Most of the infractions would not cause an establishment to be shut down. And they are called "infractions" for a reason and, as such, most are not deemed "critical." It is a common occurrence in that so many establishments are cited. It is routine in that inspections are ongoing and repeated numerous times.

But still. Do you really want your meal prepared by someone who doesn't wash their hands after going to the bathroom? Or by someone who's a little fast and loose with the raw meat on the cutting board or in the wrong prep area?

Overreaction? Perhaps. But some workers don't even have FoodSafe Level 1 certification. If food safety inspectors discover this, the establishment is cited for an infraction.

And there's a MarketSafe component: With the surge in markets delivering farm-fresh produce and goods, one can only hope that proprietors have undertaken this food-safety course.

The basic rules are simple: "All equipment, food contact surfaces, utensils, dishes & glasses used on the premises are washed and sanitized in a manner that removes contamination."

The infractions may include citations for hand-washing stations that are not properly supplied and maintained.

Or another: Chemicals, cleansers and similar agents that are not kept separate from food.


And one infraction that can be critical: Potentially hazardous food is not refrigerated to maintain safety.

How lazy can one be to not put items in the fridge?

It is high-end dining establishments, it is places where children are the No. 1 clientele, and it is at bakeries, pubs, delis and coffee houses.

It appears to be rampant, although even VCH cautions that numerous — or even singular — infractions are not cause for closure, or even alarm. And VCH urges website visitors to "browse the history of the facility before arriving at any conclusions."

Closures are usually undertaken when there are rodent or insect infestations, which seem to come after an inspection. How can you continue to run a restaurant when rats are running around, or cockroaches are feasting on the crumbs? It seems to take an inspection to remedy this, and that is disturbing. But if employees aren't washing their hands, and owners aren't ensuring everyone has valid FoodSafe certification, you can see why VCH inspectors have their hands full.

For a hard hit of reality, one can check the causes for restaurant closures: Lack of hot water, lack of potable water, pest infestations — and even operating without a permit. Operators can be either incredibly ignorant, or they just don't care. Or is it because they are so busy in Whistler that much of what they should be aware of isn't even on their radar?

This is not unique to Whistler. It occurs in almost every establishment where people are willing to pay for someone to prepare their food and drink. It is here and it is everywhere.

To the credit of most establishments on the VCH site, non-critical infractions are often corrected while the inspector is onsite.

Head over to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and chart the daily alerts of contaminations, recalls and allergy alerts. Everything from E. coli to Salmonella in tea and sausages and frozen vegetables.

We are human. We are flawed. We don't always follow the rules. We make mistakes. We take the path of least resistance.

It's not often we can say this: Thank god for government interference, especially when it comes to food safety.