QUEBEC: Editorial: From Toronto, a model for restaurant inspection
Posted: January 27th, 2012 - 7:25pm
Source: The Gazette
Montreal fancies itself a great city for restaurant dining, and rightly so. But good as it is, it could do with some improvement.
As The Gazette’s Roberto Rocha reported last week, when it comes to restaurant inspections and the disclosure of their findings, our city lags behind other places to which Montrealers like to think this town is superior when it comes to fine dining.
Eating in restaurants can certainly be risky to one’s health. The latest available food-poisoning statistics for Quebec as a whole showed 1,231 cases between April 2008 and March 2009 – and these are only the ones that were reported. Of those, 610 were in Montreal. Nearly half of all cases were traced to bad food served in a restaurant.
But in the self-styled mecca of gastronomy that is Montreal, information available to the public on restaurant salubrity is incomplete, not up to date and not as helpful as it should and could be.
The issue has been raised by the group Montréal Ouvert, which is pushing for information transparency in the city in a variety of areas. It notes that it can take up to two years for Montreal restaurant fines to be published online by the city. This means diners have no way of knowing that a restaurant in which they plan to eat, or in which they have already dined, has been recently found to be dirty.
Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa publish all restaurant-inspection reports regularly. Toronto, at which sophisticated Montrealers like to look down their noses, updates its DineSafe online database daily. Such prompt and complete reporting allows diners to easily check if establishments have breached hygiene rules, or if restaurants previously found in contravention of health standards have cleaned up their act.
Toronto’s award-winning system further obliges restaurants to advertise their cleanliness rating on the premises by way of colour-coded cards that patrons can see.
The benefits of full and ready disclosure of restaurant hygiene ratings are manifold. Most important, of course, is that it makes eating in restaurants a safer experience. But it also encourages restaurants to be more vigilant about maintaining health standards, and tends to save money for the municipal government because fewer inspections are needed: since Toronto implemented its system in 2001, the rate of compliance with hygiene regulations has risen to 92 per cent from less than 50 per cent, with the result that fewer than eight per cent of establishments require follow-up inspections.