Training proposed for workers at restaurants that violate food-safety regulations in Ottawa

Food handlers should receive training if their restaurants and businesses repeatedly violate food-safety regulations, says a proposal to go to Ottawa’s board of health.

Except there’s little to no evidence that training works to improve food safety behavior (some call it culture) and little evidence about what makes training effective.

The Ottawa Citizen reports that restaurants and other food premises that have more than four repeat critical infractions over a 12-month period would have to participate in training, according to the proposal from public health staff.

The targeted training would supplement punishment applied to places that break the rules, which can range from fines to closures. (The city also posts the results of inspections on its website, meaning restaurants that violate regulations face the threat of lost business.)

The public health unit currently offers voluntary courses and certification in food-handler training. Staff looked into the possibility of mandatory training for all food handlers, but found it wouldn’t be a worthwhile use of resources.

It’s difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of mandatory certification from other Ontario health units, the report states, and making such requirements mandatory is unwarranted for low-risk establishments such as variety stores.

The board of health is to discuss the proposal on Monday.

Inspection results can be found at ottawa.ca/restaurantinspections.

I’m all for providing compelling information so there’s fewer sick people from food. But the days of plopping butts in a classroom are long gone. We’ll have much more to say about the effectiveness of food service training in the near future.

Do fines even matter? NYC councilor drafting bill to change restaurant inspection fine structure

A colleague at the vet college shared a story with me about restaurant grades a couple of months ago. He and his son went into a local sushi place and it was dead – they had no problem getting a seat during the usually busy lunch rush. He asked the manager what was up and she said that business had been down since they had been given a low score during a routine inspection.

That made him pause a bit, they ordered lunch and ate, but hadn’t been back. I guess some folks do make choices based on posted restaurant grades.

In New York, inspections and grade postings have been a hot topic for the past few months – and as Doug wrote a few weeks ago, the requisite whining from both sides is a bit tiring.

In attempt to take the clean doesn’t mean safe statement to a more pragmatic level, NYC councilor Christine Quinn is (I think) trying to make the health department to refocus their fine structure away from clean infractions and focus on safety (but it’s billed by the New York Daily News as “shrinking penalties for citations that don’t involve food”).

In my ideal regulatory environment fines would be based on risk to public health – and so would disclosure grades.

“They are definitely working on the bill,” said Robert Bookman, counsel to the New York City Hospitality Alliance, an influential new restaurant group. “There’s a universal feeling among the City Council that something must be done to rein in the Health Department.”

The likely legislative changes include shrinking penalties for citations that don’t involve food — problems like broken tiles and dented food cans, sources said. The legislation is also expected to waive fines for eateries that score an A after appealing a lower grade.

If, as expected, the bill clears the Council, it would need a thumbs up from Mayor Bloomberg, who hasn’t shown much of an appetite for overhauling the controversial system.

City Hall expects to bank a record $48 million in restaurant fines this fiscal year — a 50% increase from the $32 million collected in 2009, budget records show.

While the fine rhetoric is captivating, the biggest penalty to a restaurant might be a poor risk-based inspection grade.

Rotting bear meat at Fredericton restaurant nets $400 fine

Eight months after rotting bear meat was discovered in a freezer at the Mandarin Palace Restaurant in Fredericton, New Brunswick (that’s in Canada), the owner has been fined $400 in court.

CBC News reports that Le Binh Tina Tu, 61, who owns the Mandarin Palace, pleaded guilty to charges after the bear meat was discovered in a cooler at the Chinese restaurant during a routine inspection by the Department of Health on Dec. 20, 2011.

An inspection record posted on the government’s website on Dec. 21 said, “Food must be purchased from an approved source. Wild animals are not approved.”