Last year the City of Toronto should have done 30,545 routine health inspections in restaurants and food establishments across the city. It only completed 25,359 of them, which represents a 17 per cent shortfall.
“Each inspector carries quite a workload already,” said Jim Chan, a retired Toronto Public Health inspector, who wasn’t surprised by the failure to meet minimum standards set by the Ontario government.
For the past ten years, Toronto Public Health has failed to hit its inspection targets, so it’s now asking for more funding to hire staff to help remedy the situation.
Last year city staff failed to complete 5,186 inspections.
“Before my retirement, there was already some cutting of budget. You’re just thinning out the number of inspectors,” said Chan.
“That can be quite risky because there will be no transparency of what’s going on in the restaurant.”
Spokesperson Dr. Howard Shapiro said, “Toronto Public Health faces a number of pressures on inspections for food safety including an increasing numbers of required routine inspections (2,819 more in 2014 compared to 2006) and an increase in complaints in food safety.”
The agency is seeking to hire six more positions to lessen the workload for its current staff and to help them meet mandatory inspection targets.
Toronto has over 17,000 food establishments. “If you look at the Dinesafe website, ten per cent of them fail an inspection every year,” said Chan.
A violation can lead to serious health consequences, such as salmonella or listeria infections. Chan said he once saw staff at a seafood restaurant in rubber boots walking around in sewage due to a backed up toilet.
“And they were continuing to process food.”
More recently, a study out of McMaster University drew a possible link between food poisoning and Crohn’s disease.
Gabriela Villegas, a student at Ryerson University, said she became ill for five days after eating a sandwich and had to delay a trip to Mexico.
“It was really awful. You can’t move, you just can’t go anywhere because you can feel sick anytime,” said Villegas.
Her friend Amir Nissan was alarmed at the high number of inspections that aren’t complete for a want of resources.
“It’s definitely scary because you’re like, ‘What if this is like long-term damage to my stomach, or an infection that antibiotics can’t cure?’” said Nissan.
In rare cases people have become infected with Hepatitis A, a virus affecting the liver that can cause organ failure.
So far this year, according to the City of Toronto’s DineSafe database, at least 21 restaurants have been shut down and 1,417 have failed one food safety inspection.
Mayor John Tory said public safety is paramount, and despite requiring budgetary belt-tightening for all city department and agencies, he’s willing to invest in more inspectors.
“If it requires more inspectors and that requires an increase to the budget, in that area, then that’s what will be done,” Tory told reporters at a Monday morning press conference.