Canada’s Health Inspections, Restaurant Inspections and Beach Closures
Public Health Inspections and restaurant inspections are conducted regularly by Canada’s Federal, Provincial or Municipal agencies. Inspections are conducted on restaurants, swimming pools, child care facilities, rental housing, public facilities, beaches and drinking water systems.
Many health inspection agencies in Canada disclose their restaurant inspection reports, ratings or convictions, repair or closure orders, drinking water and beach water quality reports, beach closures, beach postings, or other inspection information for anyone to read. You may be able to view these for restaurants, beaches, daycares, swimming pools, rental housing, drinking water systems or other public facilities in your area.
Health Inspectors generally enter these facilites during normal business hours. In Canada, most juridictions have laws that make it illegal for an owner or operator to stop them from entering their establishment. Public Health Inspectors carry proper photo identification for these purposes.
Canadian Public Health Inspectors conducting restaurant inspections do not ususally contact operators to schedule health inspections, do not require the use of unique codes and do not charge fees. They do not collect payments for fines or for issuing restaurant rating systems.
Once they have completed their health inspection of the facility, they give reports to the operator or owner outlining deficiencies that require their attention, generally with strict timelines for completion. In some cases, Orders are issued.
Orders are powerful legal documents that require something to be addressed immediately or require a premise to be closed. For the Order to be lifted, the owner or operator is required to remove the condition that is considered injurious or dangerous to the health of the public.
Failure to comply with an order is a very serious matter and can result in charges and an owner or operator could find themselves facing a judge in a court of law. If this happens, the judge may require the operator to correct the health issue and to pay a large fine as well.
If an operator does not comply with the judges decision, the judge may require the operator to serve time in prison.
In order to practise in Canada, Public Health Inspectors and Environmental Health Officers must be certified by the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors. As a minimum, a bachelor degree in Environmental Health is required.
Facilities in Canada that may have health inspections conducted on them are restaurants, food establishments, food premises, cafeterias, convenience stores, gas bars, mobile food premises, catering vehicles, day cares, child care centres, seniors lodges, apartments, rental houses and illegal drug houses.
Swimming pools, whirlpools, recreation centres, water parks, beaches, drinking water systems, drinking water wells, campgrounds, work camps, lodges, wilderness camps, backcountry lodges, waste disposal facilites and private sewage disposal systems may also be inspected.
Personal services businesses such as barber shops, hair cutting salons, hair waxing and removal shops, beauty shops, ear and body peircing shops and tattooing shops may also have health inspections conducted on them.
Health inspectors may review development plans and provide comments to subdivision and development authorites on land use planning, new housing subdivisions, drinking water systems, resorts, subdivision of land, cemetaries, industrial and commercial developments.
The enforcement of regulations regarding the sale of tobacco products to minors and inspection of specified smoke free places may also be carried out.
Health inspectors may also address outdoor and indoor air quality issues, soil contamination, drinking water contamination, recreational and beach water contamination, recalls on food products and any other condition that could be a danger to the health of the public.
Health inspections are also conducted into food poisoinings, foodborne diseases, outbreaks and other communicable diseases carried by food or water. Inspectors also follow-up with animals that have bitten or scratched humans in the event rabies may have been a factor.
Restaurant Health Inspections
Health inspectors inspect restaurants and other food establishments on a regular basis. These restaurant inspections are sometimes referred to as monitoring health inspections. Restaurant inspections are conducted when the restaurant is open. The health inspections are unannounced so operators of restaurants do not know when a health inspector will be entering their facility.
Health inspectors may enter the restaurant and, for a moment prior to introducing themselves, just watch staff food handling practices. They may look for the following:
Is staff clothing clean (including aprons)?
Are staff are washing their hands?
Are staff touching contaminated items such as money or objects and then touching food?
Is staff handling food correctly to avoid contaminating it?
Are staff sneezing and coughing into their hands and not washing them?
Are staff constantly touching their hair or face, or scratching themselves, and then handling food?
Is staff showing signs of being sick or do they have infected sores or cuts?
Do staff have their hair under control?
Do staff wear jewellery that cannot be cleaned and may contaminate food on such as ornamental rings?
Do staff have long finger nails, nail polish or artificial nails?
In many establishments, the health inspector will be known simply because of the frequent health inspections and relationship developed over time so the inspector will make the operator, manager or other staff member in charge at the time of the visit aware of the reason for the visit.
In other cases, the health inspector will show official identification and clearly state who he or she is and the reason for the visit. It is an offence in most jurisdictions in Canada for an operator to prevent a health inspector from conducting a health inspection of their restaurant.
Operators unfamiliar with the health inspector should be asking to see identification to ensure they are dealing with a real health inspector and not an imposter.
Routine or monitoring restaurant inspections are very common, but there may be other reasons for a health inspector to inspect a restaurant. Inspectors may visit a restaurant to follow-up on a complaint they have received regarding the restaurant.
They may also visit to follow-up on a confirmed food borne illness where that restaurant was listed as one of the places where the ill individual or individuals had eaten during a given period of time in the past, based on the agent causing the illness and case history.
Other visits may be in response to an emergency situation such as a prolonged power outage, loss of water pressure or a boil water order in the community, fire, flood or other event that may impact a restaurants ability to store, prepare and handle food safety.
Once introductions have been completed, the inspector will begin checking the restaurant to ensure it is in compliance with local food regulation requirements. Many health jurisdictions require a restaurant to have a permit in order to operate and that permit generally must be displayed where customers can see it. Inspectors will check to ensure it is a valid permit and it is properly displayed.
The health inspector then proceeds to ensure compliance in two categories of risk. High Risk or critical infractions and Low Risk or non-critical infractions. High Risk items are those that have potential to pose an immediate health concern to the safety of the food. In general, it is where harmful microorganism (pathogens), chemicals or allergens may contaminate food, or pathogens may be allowed to grow and reproduce in the food to a point that a food poisoning may result if a person eats that food or a person with an allergy may have a severe reaction to a allergen.
Items that may be considered High Risk during a health inspection include temperature control of potentially hazardous food, how food is handled, improper handwashing, cross-contamination of food from improperly cleaned food contact surfaces or food stored in non-food grade containers, contamination of ready-to-eat food from raw food items stored or handled nearby, the source and condition of the food, the health of the food handlers, the presence of pests such as insects or rodents, and the potability of the water used in the restaurant.
Low Risk items may include the general cleanliness of the kitchen surfaces that are not food contact surfaces such as floors, walls, ceilings, etc., the cleanliness of the customer areas and the washrooms, the repair of these areas, the lighting intensity where food is prepared, how the garbage is being stored, and that documentation is being maintained such as food permits, food temperature recordings, food safety training certificates, etc.
When the health inspection or restaurant inspection is completed the health inspector gives a report to the owner, the operator or the staff in charge outlining the infractions, if applicable, and the timeline to bring the food establishment back into compliance. Depending on the health inspection agency, the report may be verbal, verbal with an emailed, faxed or mailed report to follow, a hand written or check-list report, or a computer generated restaurant health inspection report printed and handed directly to them on-site at the time of the health inspection.
Many health inspection agencies encourage restaurant operators to discuss the report with the health inspector while the inspector is on-site and to ask questions. One of the roles of a health inspector is to provide food safety and hygiene education to restaurant operators, managers and staff.
When the date for compliance is due, the health inspector revisits the restaurant to conduct a reinspection or compliance health inspection. If the infractions have not been addressed at that time the health inspector will inquire as to why. High Risk infractions are taken seriously and the operator may be required to immediately comply. An operator may be granted more time to correct an outstanding infraction if it is considered non-critical and the restaurant operator has provided a valid reason for the non-compliance.
In some cases, a health inspector may have no choice but to issue a restaurant Closure Order or a Work Order to a restaurant owner or operator due to continued non-compliance with recommendations given during a routine monitoring inspection, or due to repeated infractions showing on every routine monitoring inspection. For the later, these types of repeated infractions may indicate the restaurant operator is not following the required food safety practices during the lengthy time between routine monitoring health inspections.
Work Orders require the operator to correct a deficiency within a specified time, but the restaurant is allowed to continue to operate. A restaurant Closure Order requires closure of the restaurant and a placard is placed on the door of the restaurant by the health inspector indicating it has been closed by the local health inspection department.
Health jurisdictions usually offer the restaurant operator or owner the opportunity to appeal an Order. If the appeal board upholds the Order and the restaurant owner and operator continues to refuse to correct the deficiencies outlined in the Order by the time specified, this person or company may be charged by the health inspector and taken to a court of law.
A lawyer is present to represent the health inspector and health agency. Many health agencies have contracts with lawyers who specialize in Environmental Public Health law and are well versed in the local regulations. A court Judge will hear both the restaurant owner or operator’s side and the health inspector’s side, review all documentation provided by both sides and make a decision.
If the Order is up-held by the Judge, he or she may issue fines to the restaurant owner or operator, and possibly to others who may have had care and control of the restaurant such as managers and supervisors, for not complying with the Order. The Judge may also change the work required in the Order to specifically address his or her concerns and decision. The Judge will also set out timelines for payment of the fine and the consequences for non-payment, which may be a warrant for arrest and a lengthy time served in jail.
The country of Canada is composed of 10 provinces and 3 territories. They are Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut Territory, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. Health inspections are conducted in all of these provinces and territories.
Beach Closures, Beach Postings, Beach Warnings, Beach Water Quality
Health inspection agencies also test the water quality at public beaches in their jurisdiction during the time of year the beach may be used for swimming. High counts of e. coli bacteria in the water can pose a health issue for people swimming in the water. The beach water is sampled on a weekly basis.
In general, the health inspector enters the water to a depth of approximately 1 meter, walks along parallel to the shore against the current (if applicable) collecting several water samples at approximately 35 centimeters down from the surface of the water. The water samples are placed in a cooler and sent to an accredited laboratory for bacteriological testing. Because they are testing for living microoganisms the samples must reach the laboratory within 24 hours of collection to ensure accuracy.
Results of each of the samples collected are entered into a formula to calculate the geometric mean of all the sample results combined. If the geometric mean is above the maximum acceptable limit for e. coli bacteria, beach postings are initiated. The health inspector will either post beach closure signs or beach water advisory signs at conspicuous areas along the beach. Beach closures result in the beach being closed for swimming or bathing any kind.
Beach water advisories are warnings from the health inspection agency to the public that potentially dangerous microorganisms may be present in the beach water at levels that are exceeding health limits and entering, swimming or playing in the water is not advised. Beach water testing still continues and when the levels of e. coli bacteria fall below the acceptable health limit, the beach postings are removed.
Beaches may also be closed or posted by the health inspecton agency for other reasons besides levels of coli bacteria. A common parasite known to cause Swimmers Itch may be present in the water or there may be large amounts of toxic blue-green algae making the water unsafe to swim in.