Posts Tagged ‘Health’

Colour Coded Restaurant Inspections

October 19, 2008

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.

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Timmie Rates a ‘Thumbs Down’

May 14, 2008

closed to community valuesIn this post about the Tim Horton’s employee who was fired for giving a Timbit to a baby, I questioned if the company truly cares about the communities in which it’s privileged to make it’s profits, or if everything it does is simply PR-motivated. And I referred to having had some personal experience in that regard.

Over on Dan Brown’s LFP blog (sorry, but you’ll have to search; they don’t provide permalinks) he suggests that “in the collective imagination, the typical Tim Hortons outlet has become the equivalent of a community centre. Their stores now serve the same purpose.” And he asks, “what do you think of my theory?”

Well, truth be told, he directed the question at another regular blogger. So, being as shy as I am about expressing my opinion, I agonized about answering it here. For about 1 second! 😉

I’ve got two different examples to share, which help to explain why I don’t think that the hugely successful coffee franchisor values the communities in which it does business.

The first example involves my experience as a local BookCrosser. I suggest that you read this media article to begin with. And then read the letter that I hand-delivered and never got a reply to.

The second example involves my experience as an active member of my local community association. Specifically, my repeated attempts to acquire permission to post notices of upcoming association meetings and community events in the two local TH franchises. Simply put, the reaction has always been the same… “It’s company policy that we aren’t allowed to put up notices.”

Bah, humbug. Go Scrooge yourselves! 😡

Added 2008/05/18:

Surprise! I received a telephone call on Friday from somebody at the TH head office. After she confirmed that it is company policy that franchises not post notices of community events, she tried to suggest that putting notices in the store windows would obstruct visibility and create an unsafe condition. When I countered that a simple notice could be allowed someplace else (eg. on a wall just inside the entrance) she simply repeated that the chain’s policy was to not allow any 3rd-party ads. Countering that spin, I pointed out that a community association cannot fairly be placed into the same category as a commercial advertiser and that assisting the promotion of a CA would be an excellent way for the chain to demonstrate it’s appreciation for the fact that it is privileged to be able to profit in our community. No dice. The spokesperson simply repeated the “it’s our company policy…” mantra and thanked me for my communication.

What do you think?

Added 2008/05/21:

self-promoThe Timmie’s spokesperson at it’s head office who telephoned me tried to suggest that allowing community-related notices to be posted on it’s premises would ‘junk up’ the environment, but witness what the chain is willing to do itself in order to solicit financial donations from it’s customers.
Kettle = Black?

What do you think?

Other Links:
2008/05/23 – NowPublic: Tiff at Tim Hortons

2008/05/28 – WinExtra: Make sure you count your Timmie change

Safety of Plastics and Alternatives

April 5, 2008

“Some scientists are concerned that a chemical found in some plastic products, such as water bottles and children’s sippy cups, could make you very sick and possibly cause cancer.” 01

“Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic — a sturdy, hard plastic found in all sorts of consumer goods, including some nondisposable water bottles, baby bottles, sippy cups and can liners…In a variety of lab studies, it’s been linked to diseases like breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, reproductive problems and diabetes…It’s like putting a time bomb into the organs…” 01

“When you eat or drink things that are stored in plastic, taste it, smell it, wear it, sit on it, and so on, plastic is incorporated into you. In fact, the plastic gets into the food and food gets into the plastic and you. So, quite literally, you are what you eat. . . drink. . . and breathe – plastic!” 02

“Although phthalates have been used as plasticizers to soften plastic toys for many years, questions are now being raised about whether their use is appropriate… The debate on the use of phthalates has been expanding in the United States and in Europe.” 03

“Plastic materials/articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs…may contain a variety of substances [that] can be transferred from the plastic material/article into the food during processing and storage, a process known as migration.”  04

“Many people are so worried…that they’re ditching the plastic and looking for containers made from other materials. But that has raised other questions: Just how safe are the alternatives, and is Health Canada trying to find out?” 05

Sources:
01. 2007/11/08 – WBAL TV: Safety Of Chemical Used In Plastic…Questioned
02. 2003/11/16 – Mindfully: Get Plastic Out Of Your Diet
03. 2000/01/11 – KidSource: Mothers Concerned About Safety of Softeners in Plastic Toys…
04. 2007/09/18 – Food Science Central: Plastic packaging and food safety
05. 2008/03/11 – Globe&Mail: Are alternatives any safer than plastics?

Other Links:
HubPages: The truth about plastic
2005/04/13 – EHP: Low-Dose Effects of Bisphenol A Shows the Need for a New Risk Assessment
2005/08/03 – Mindfully: Alternatives to Plastic
2006/05/11 – NCBI: Large effects from small exposures.

Is Mad-Cow Disease in Canada’s Food Chain?

March 14, 2008

Two Saguenay-region deaths in the past three months have been attributed to CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), which has killed a total of 359 Canadians since 1994. Brain autopsies will be performed in order to determine if the rare variant linked with mad-cow disease was responsible, but results will not be available before May or June. 01

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Seize the Moment Before it Disappears

March 3, 2008

Here’s a post that I found at Theater Of Cruelty and admired so much that I just had to ask for permission to repost it here:

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Pollution From Traffic Harms Children

February 23, 2008
( posted with permission )

According to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, “children who live in neighbourhoods with heavy traffic pollution have lower IQs and score worse on other tests of intelligence and memory than children who breathe cleaner air.” 01

The study’s lead author is Dr. Shakira Franco Suglia (Boston’s Harvard School of Public Health). She says that traffic pollution has been associated with a number of other harmful effects as well, and that there’s not much people can do other than moving away from heavy traffic areas. 02

“All children’s outdoor activities should be as far as possible from busy roadways.” 03

Be sure to check out my list of the highest-volume stretches of road in London 04 (and then keep your kids away from them)!

Sources:
01. 2008/02/19 – National Post: Effects Of Heavy Traffic Pollution
02. 2008/02/15 – MSNBC: …tied to low memory and intellegence scores
03. 2004/04/30 – ENS: Particle Pollution…
04. CityLondon: Traffic Volume Data

Editorial Cop-out?

February 21, 2008


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A UWO Gazette sketch (reposted with permission).
comic

Todays Gazette editorial writer is correct. The sale of cigarettes in Mustang Alley is a moral and health issue in addition to being a business decision. But does the lack of interest by students justify the suggestion that it isn’t worth the time of the students’ council? What role does the Gazette play in an issue like this? Does today’s editorial fulfill any responsibility that it might have to educate and to promote discussion of worthy issues?

Only in England? Pity ):

February 15, 2008

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Staid, conservative, old London in England is up to some pretty progressive things these days. In fact, they downright put London in Canada to shame.

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Is Our Water Unsafe?

February 9, 2008

According to an International Joint Commission 400-page study, communities in areas around the Great Lakes have low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.

Haven’t heard about it before now? Reportedly, that’s because the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has been delaying release of the report due to the potentially alarming information contained in it.

When Christopher De Rosa (ATSDR’s 15-years director of toxicology and environmental medicine who oversaw the study) blew the whistle and pressed for it’s release, the agency retaliated by demoting him.

Links:
Great Lakes Danger Zones?
Great Lakes Environment and Sustainability Chronology
2008/02/15 – Montreal Gazette: Government buries climate science

Would You Pedal for the Sally Ann?

January 28, 2008

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The Salvation Army’s shelter on Jarvis Street in Toronto plans to launch it’s WeloBike Project 2008/02/12. The initiative will depend upon volunteers to pedal old exercise bikes that have been retrofitted to allow generated energy to be stored in attached battery packs. That reserve of energy will then be used to light the shelter’s rooms.

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Ted Kheel’s Fight for Free Public Transit

January 9, 2008

Ted Kheel is a labor attorney/environmentalist who founded the Nurture Nature Foundation and has been lobbying for free transit in New York City for a lot of years. In Feb. 2007 he commissioned a $100,000 study which is expected to be released shortly. Some of the preliminary materials are available online now:

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Kellogg Canada’s Pedometer Promo

January 3, 2008


Kellogg’s Canada issued a ‘health challenge’ media release today, which includes an announcement about the inclusion of pedometers in ‘specially marked boxes’ of it’s cereals, and which “is being supported with a creative television advertising campaign.”

   TORONTO, Jan. 3 /CNW/ - 
   Put your best foot forward this New Year - literally.
       Kellogg Canada is encouraging Canadians to maintain 
   a healthy body weight with a new step counter campaign 
   designed to increase their physical activity levels.
      A recent study published in the Journal of the American 
   Medical Association shows that wearing a pedometer is 
   associated with significant increases in physical activity 
   and significant decreases in body mass index and blood 
   pressure. Overall, study participants using a pedometer 
   increased physical activity by 27 per cent - or an 
   additional 2,000 steps per day(1).
      Beginning this week, 1.1 million step counters will 
   appear in specially marked boxes of Kellogg's Special K 
   Original, Special K Red Berries, Special K Vanilla Almond, 
   Special K Chocolatey Delight, and Special K Fruit and 
   Yogurt flavour cereals, while quantities last.
      "Kellogg Canada is once again making it easier for 
   Canadians to increase their physical activity levels while 
   achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight," said 
   Christine Lowry, Vice President, Nutrition and Corporate
   Affairs, Kellogg Canada. "Using a Special K step counter 
   to monitor daily steps can be a simple and effective 
   motivator particularly at this time of year."
      To find out more about the Special K Challenge, 
   Canadians are invited to visit the new website 
   www.specialkchallenge.ca where they can find tracking
   tools, tips and articles geared towards helping consumers 
   with their shape management goals.  

There are rapidly increasing numbers of businesses jumping on the ‘green’ and ‘healthy’ bandwagons and there’s no doubt in my mind that, for many of them, it’s a lot more about self-promotion than any concern about your well-being or the environment. But I don’t lose too much sleep worrying about their motivation. Instead, I try to focus on whether or not their initiatives produce positive benefits for our society.

I’ve been wearing a pedometer for almost a year, and it’s been a smart lifestyle choice for me. With the help of this inexpensive, simple device, and by recording my distance at the end of each day, I was forced to accept the fact that I had previously been over-estimating the amount of walking that I was doing. But those days of fooling myself are over. My spreadsheet is a stark reminder of how well I’ve done, week after week, and that’s a great motivator.

I’m not encouraging you to go out and buy cereal simply so that you can get a ‘free’ pedometer. Especially if that cereal contains sugar, or chocolate, etc. But I do recommend that you get one of these devices. And although some of them come with ‘bells and whistles’ and a correspondingly higher price, I’ve been completely satisfied with the functionality of my $10 unit.

Still looking for a New Year’s resolution?

Better Health Protection in City of Calgary

December 31, 2007

Trans fat is created by turning liquid oils into semi-solid cooking/baking fats. Besides imparting a taste and texture to food that many people prefer, these fats are cheaper than healthier alternatives. Which is why so many restaurants use them. But trans fats raise the level of low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol in the body and can lead to clogged arteries and heart disease.

The federal government has resisted regulation of the industry practise. Instead of acting in the public interest, the feds have simply asked food producers to voluntarily meet a 2006 task force guideline that no more than 5 per cent of the total fat content in any food should consist of trans fats. Even though there is no safe level of consumption.

So, kudos to the city of Calgary, Alberta. Beginning 2008/01/01, restaurants in that municipality “will not be allowed to cook with fats and oils that have more than 2-per-cent trans fats in total fat content. The same rule applies to all margarines and margarine-based spreads served in those outlets” (‘Calgary cracks down on trans fat‘; Globe & Mail; 2007/12/31 ). It becomes the first city in Canada to institute such health-conscious protection.

Links:
2006/12/23 – Calgary Sun: CHR eyes ban on trans fats
2007/03/28 – CBC: Calgary continues push for trans fat ban
2007/07/16 – Toronto Star: `Fat Cat’ Calgary set to slim down
2007/12/21 – FMBS: The King of Trans-Fat
2007/12/28 – CTV: Calgary to be Canada’s first trans fat-free city
2008/01/03 – Globe & Mail: The hidden hazards of trans-fat bans

Are Communication Towers Good Neighbours?

December 29, 2007

It’s an issue that Industry Canada has jurisdiction over, but one that municipal politicians all over the province are increasingly hearing about.

More users (19.3 million Canadian subscribers as of September) and the need for greater bandwidth (video and music downloads) is driving a growing demand for better wireless infrastructure that solves poor reception. But as service providers react to that demand by putting cellphone towers in residential neighbourhoods, some community groups are voicing fears that the towers’ radio frequency emissions may pose health risks. And some residents, primarily concerned with visual blight, are demanding that towers be disguised (trees, church steeples, building facades, flag poles, public art water tanks, light poles, chimneys, windmills, etc; check out some of the photos HERE).

Residents in Montgomery County, Washington learned the hard way that cash-strapped school boards cannot be trusted to put the protection of children’s health ahead of economic incentives. When a bill came before the Maryland Legislature which proposed that leasing space for any new cell phone towers on elementary and middle school property be prohibited, the Montgomery County School Board voiced it’s unanimous opposition (‘School board stops bill banning new cell towers‘; Examiner; 2007/12/12).

Some countries in the European Union have adopted tough standards. In Salzburg, Austria, emissions can’t exceed 0.1 microwatts per square centimetre. But here, Health Canada currently permits 1,000 microwatts per square centimetre.

Should London residents be concerned?

Links:
Stop Cell Towers!
2004/05/19 – SignOnSanDiego: Parents protest cell towers on school grounds
2007/09/27 – Las Vegas Sun: Cell towers can’t hide from their opponents
2007/11/14 – Rense: Taiwan Removes All Cell Towers Near Children
2007/12/29 – Toronto Star: Cell tower plans jammed
2007/12/29 – Toronto Star: Telcos get mixed signals about better reception
2008/01/04 – Toronto Star: City report recommends limiting new cell towers

The King of Trans-Fat?

December 21, 2007

Sally Brown (CEO; Heart and Stroke Foundation) labelled Burger King the “King of Trans Fat” earlier today because many of the company’s products still contain unacceptably high levels of trans fats.

Fast-food companies often simply use the chemically changed oils (liquid to artery-clogging semi-solid) in their products because it extends shelf life, and that means increased profit.

“Not all companies are reducing them in all products, but Burger King isn’t reducing them in any products.”

Appended 2007/12/22:

click for larger imageHere’s the BK at Commissioners/Pond Mills in London, Ont; as you can see, being newly-crowned as king of trans fats doesn’t appear to be hurting business any.

Links:
2007/12/20 – CBC: …Burger King in the hot seat
2007/12/20 – Toronto Star: Burger King takes … trans fat crown
2007/12/20 – CityNews: …Government Report Names Names
2007/12/21 – Toronto Star: Burger King scores worst on trans fats
2007/12/21 – Globe & Mail: Burger King reigning leader in trans fats
2007/12/31 – Globe & Mail: Calgary cracks down on trans fat