As witnessed by the more than 200 people who fell ill, including 79 cases of confirmed food poisoning, at the 2013 Toronto CNE this August, food safety at temporary events and exhibitions is a very real concern.
While travelling in Bolivia a few years ago I was warned not to eat food offered by street vendors. Fair enough, but this is Canada.
Our food safety regulations and monitoring systems are first world, not third. Aren’t they?
We have had some major hiccups of late: Mad Cow in 2003, Maple Leaf Foods in 2008 and XL Foods last year. But those are other stories.
On Vancouver Island we have the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) to protect us, or rather, as their website states “to prevent food borne illnesses through safe food management.”
This is achieved primarily through the inspection of restaurants, pubs and lounges, hospitals and care facilities, food carts and coffee outlets, delis and bakeries, grocery stores and more, including temporary events where food is sold.
There is a list of inspections performed by VIHA on the North and Central Island, since 2005, available online at: http://www.viha.ca/mho/inspections/
This resource is comprehensive: organized by city and/or community.
You can view the inspection results of your favourite restaurant or local corner store.
What you will not find however, are the results of any food inspections conducted at the hundreds of temporary events, fairs, street markets, festivals and so on that take place on Vancouver Island year in and year out.
All food vendors are required to submit an application to VIHA prior to each temporary event. Without this application participation is prohibited.
This is all well and good but where are the inspections?
The Toronto illnesses may have been prevented by proactive testing. There is a lesson to be learned from our own mistakes, better still from others.