16 March 2008

Of gas prices, tourists and ptomaine

Ed Ring is right.  Having inspection reports on restaurants and other food service places accessible to the public is good.  It's a step in the right direction.

But while some people are busily patting themselves on the back, they might consider the aspects of the auditor general's report on health inspections a bit more closely.

There are a few issues that remain unresolved:

1.  The problem was with restaurants failing health inspections repeatedly and still being allowed to say open.  That hasn't changed. Some of them were serious failures, but apparently they weren't quite serious enough.

2. How many other restaurants are out there?  The six restaurants were only a sample.  CBC and the Telegram might be all over the six but, the auditors only took a sample of the thousands of inspection reports on thousands of food service establishments.

3.  Why do an inspection when the place is closed?  This whole issue is about how the inspectors conduct the inspections and enforce - or don't enforce - the rules. 

Now you have to wonder about the ministry of permits and licenses if its inspectors try to inspect a place at a time of the year when they know the seasonal establishment is closed.

In St. Lewis, Labrador in May 2006, at the Fisherman's Landing, inspectors found unsatisfactory hand-washing facilities and improper thermostats. Inspectors were unable to complete a January 2008 inspection because the restaurant was closed for [the] season.

Think about that.

Problems identified in May 2006.

Inspectors go back to the seasonal restaurant - on the coast of Labrador - almost two years later to see if the problems are still around.  It's not like these were insignificant issues.  And they can't get in because the restaurant isn't in operation at that time. 

Of course, we start to understand the depth of the problem when we consider the words of the minister responsible for health licensing. We've been operating under the assumption Kevin O'Brien and his inspectors are there to protect the public and keep it safe.

Turns out the task here is not so much the enforcement of standards  - to prevent the spread of deadly infections - but rather the education of people running food service establishments. 

In that little scenario, the people of the province O'Brien is supposed to be protecting are nothing more than the final exam in this little education process.

Call me funny, but I have a problem with being used as a test subject in O'Brien's little exercise in learning.

You see, when one of these restaurant people fail their exam in O'Brienology, my children and I wind up in hospital.

Or dead.

And if people who live here have a problem with Kevin O'Brien's bizarre view of his responsibilities, imagine how those thousands of potential visitors  - tourists - feel about being used in Kevin's lab as guinea pigs.

Gives new meaning to experiencing the local culture.

"Was that ptomaine or salmonella, dear?  Hmm, not sure.  Let's try the next place and see what develops."

Kinda makes concerns about gasoline prices and the impact on tourism just a bit trivial.