I had the opportunity over the past couple of months to participate in a number of focus groups developed on for the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) in order to get public input on the new system for identifying the cleanliness of restaurants in the MLHU jurisdiction.
Just this past week it was made public (in the London Free Press) that the MLHU would be requiring restaurants to post their inspection reports for public viewing. Paired with a colour-coded system that alerts consumers to the cleanliness of a given establishment this initiative will bring London (and area) based restaurants up to a certain standard held in many cities in the region.
Although I fully believe that this is a step in the right direction I think that the MLHU is not taking the right approach to the issue of cleanliness in food service establishments.
Through sitting in and contributing to the focus groups that the MLHU held and experiencing the systems in places in such cities as Toronto I think that the MLHU’s approach to implementing a system here in London is not good enough as it allows for too many “unknowns” and interpretation of meanings.
With this new system, colours are associated with the cleanliness of an establishment. Green indicates that everything (or almost everything) is ok, Red indicates that there have been severe infractions and that the establishment has been closed. Then there is the Yellow indicator.
This is where the problem lies with me. Yellow indicates a “conditional pass” which means “non-critical violations” have been identified, are not a health risk and must be remedied. In my eyes a place is either clean or it isn’t and in the end it should either be open or not.
I know that we live in a world where everything is not black and white and there are grey areas everywhere we look, but when it comes to what I am eating I don’t want there to be any guess work that I have to do.
If I were to see a Yellow sign, marking a conditional pass, I begin to wonder what was the threshold the health examiner used when evaluating this establishment. I fully understand that there are certain criteria that need to be met, but I begin to worry when an establishment is on the borderline of those criteria, teetering between the colors Yellow and Red.
When it comes to the safety of what I am eating I do not want to have to do reading in order to evaluate whether or not the establishment I am at is up to my standards, I just want to know if it is clean or not.
Chances are if an establishment is getting a “conditional pass” there are other things that need remediation that the inspector missed finding, many of these “other things” can be, and probably are more important and detrimental to the health of the consumers.
I honestly hope that this system, after it has been in place for some time, gets re-evaluated with input once again from the public to see if the system currently proposed is truly the best way to educate and inform consumers. For now I guess I will have to live with the system that has been chosen and praise it as a beginning step in the right direction.