Eating out... the inside scoop on Toronto's DineSafe Program
Ever wondered what that sign at the entrace of your favourite hangout really means? Well, here is the inside 'scoop'. All Toronto food premises and there are approximately 18,000 in Toronto and over 10,000 of them are restaurants - are inspected by Public Health Inspectors one to three times per year and issued a report card which has to be displayed prominently for the public to see. A green "PASS" indicates that the premises are in compliance with Ontario's Food Premises Regulation, or only minor infractions were noted. A yellow "CONDITIONAL PASS" on the other hand indicates that significant infractions were noted which have to be rectified within 48 hours. The red "CLOSED" sign means that crucial infractions were observed which pose an immediate health hazard to the public hence necessitating the immediate closing of the establishment.
Today more than 90 percent of restaurants pass the test. But it wasn't always that way. Prior to the DineSafe Program food-safety compliance was a mere 42 percent. A Toronto Star investigation in 2000 found "hundreds of city restaurants had serious food safety violations, from repeated cockroach and mice infestations to food temperature violations that produce bacteria and filthy food preparation surfaces. Yet none of the suspect eateries had been shut down and only a handful had been fined a few hundred dollars. - Worse still, details of those violations were hidden from the public."
Following the Star's "Dirty Dining" report there was a public outrage which prompted Toronto City Council to amend the Licensing By-Law resulting in the establishment of Toronto's DineSafe Program. Shortly after Toronto began making the results of restaurant inspections public in 2001 cases of food-borne illnesses fell drastically.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Toronto's DineSafe Program has been a great success. Recognizing this success, Toronto's DineSafe Program will be honoured on June 18th 2011 by receiving a highly prestigious award. Other cities in Canada and around the world have adopted similar disclosure models. This is good news for Torontonians and visitors alike but it's important not to get too complacent. If you have concerns about an eatery look for the green pass in the window. Or even better, look up your eatery by name on the City's website or contact the Toronto Public Health Department at: 416-338-FOOD (3663) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.