MLHU - Health Status Resource

Safe Food

Safe Food
Key Findings: 

Improperly stored or prepared food may cause those who consume it to become ill. While this is certainly a concern in private homes, proper food handling and other food safety management practices are critical at restaurants and take-out establishments to prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses and outbreaks in the community.

Between 2015 and 2018, the proportion of public food premises in Middlesex-London confirmed as the source of food-borne illness or outbreaks was low, at five or fewer each year, corresponding to 0.3% or lower annually. The proportion of premises where food handlers demonstrated safe food-handling practices was relatively high, at greater than 88%. However, the proportion of premises with a documented food safety management plan was less than 15%, and the percent gradually decreased in each of the four years.

Premises associated with food-borne illness or outbreaks Premises with a food safety management plan
Premises with food handlers demonstrating safe food-handling practices  

Premises associated with food-borne illness or outbreaks

In each year between 2015 and 2018, five or fewer public food premises, such as restaurants and take-out establishments, were confirmed as the source of a food-borne illness or outbreak in the community in the 12 months preceding the inspection date. This corresponds to 0.3% or lower in each of the four years (data not shown).

Premises with food handlers demonstrating safe food handling practices

Between 2015 and 2018, the proportion of food premises in Middlesex-London with food handlers who demonstrated safe food-handling practices at the time of inspection was greater than 88%. The proportion was comparable across all four years, ranging from 88.2% in 2015 to 90.3% in 2018 (Figure 14.3.1).

Premises with a food safety management plan

While not a legislated requirement, it is a best practice for food premises to establish a food safety management plan that is regularly monitored.1 Between 2015 and 2018, less than 15% of inspected food premises in Middlesex-London had a food safety management plan documented. Further, the proportion consistently decreased across the four-year time period, from 14.3% in 2015 to 9.3% in 2018. Compared to 2015, the proportion of premises with a documented food safety management plan was significantly lower in both 2017 and 2018 (Figure 14.3.2).

Interpretive Notes: 

Overall, only a small proportion of public food premises in Middlesex-London were confirmed as the source of food-borne illness. In the majority of these premises, food handlers demonstrated safe food-handling practices, with the percentage being comparable from 2015 to 2018. Although not a legislated requirement, the proportion of premises having a documented food safety management plan was low, at less than 15%, and the proportion decreased across the four-year time period. These findings suggest that at an individual level, food handlers in Middlesex-London premises generally know and implement practices that reduce the risk of food-borne illness among those who consume the food they have prepared. However, the low proportion of premises with a documented food safety management plan suggests that there may be room for organizational improvements that align to best practices, in order to further reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses and outbreaks in the community.

There are a number of different types of inspected food premises in the Middlesex-London region, from those that are accessible to the general public, to temporary special events and festivals, and institutional food premises serving higher risk populations such as hospital patients, long-term care home residents, and children at licensed child care centres. The premises included in this topic are limited to fixed food premises available to the general population, such as restaurants, take-out, and convenience stores; temporary and institutional food premises are excluded.

Ontario legislation does not require food premises to have a food safety management plan documented. Indeed, many food premises operators have processes in place to monitor critical control points in food handling without formally documenting a food safety management plan. However, documenting and regularly monitoring such a plan is an operational best practice. To support food premises in adopting this best practice, the Middlesex-London Health Unit has recently created a food safety management plan template that can be customized by operators for their food premises.

Although the proportion of food premises in Middlesex-London reported as the source of food-borne illnesses or outbreaks in the community was low, the true occurrence was likely under-represented. Public health units often do not become aware of people experiencing food-borne illness associated with a dining establishment unless the person notifies the public health unit. The voluntary nature of reporting may result in individual and clusters of illness not being reported and therefore investigated by public health.

Ontario Public Health Standard: 

Ontario Public Health Standards: Requirements for Programs, Services, and Accountability – Food Safety (pages 31-32)
Population Health Assessment and Surveillance Protocol, 2018

References:

1. Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. Food premises reference document, 2019 [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Queen’s Printer of Ontario; 2019 Feb [cited 2019 Oct 30]. 51 p. Available from http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/oph_standards/d...

2. Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Operational approaches for food safety guideline, 2019 [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Queen’s Printer of Ontario; 2019 Feb [cited 2019 Oct 30]. 20 p. Available from http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/oph_standards/d...

Last modified on: November 19, 2019

Jargon Explained: 

Food Safety Management Plan
A food safety management plan is a documentation process to “identify and assess hazards and risk associated with a food operation and defining the means of their control”.2 Although not a legislated requirement for food premises, it is considered an operational best practice.