LETHBRIDGE - At least three times every year, Health Inspectors will visit every southern Alberta food establishment. That includes restaurants, cafeterias, delis, cafes, concessions, and grocery stores - to see if they're in compliance with health and safety regulations.
Most comply, some have minor violations - and a few are either placed on probation for one or more critical violations, or as a last resort, shut down.
And during the holiday season, many of us eat out more often at these establishments, get take out, or have events catered.
So if you're curious about how your favorite restaurant is rated, it's all online.
Each establishment is rated according to a certain colour. Lizette Elumir, AHS Medical Officer of Health, explains how it works.
"We have inspectors that go into all restaurants to inspect, basically their practices and to do a risk assessment. So, what is the risk of any of the practices causing potential illness.
So if they go in, and the restaurants are practicing safe procedures, then they get a green. If they notice one violation, or what they call a 'critical,' then they get a yellow. And if they notice more than one, then they give them probation, or orange. And so red means there is a reason for them to close down the restaurant."
In Lethbridge, there are currently two establishments that are rated as "orange," with several critical violations, and 21 restaurants that require follow up inspections.
Some of those critical violations include serving or leaving out moldy food, leaving raw meat out for more than 24 hours, using the same cutting boards for raw meat and vegetables, leaving opened garbage containers near food, not storing food at safe temperatures/ poor temperature control, employees not washing their hands, unsanitary equipment, and using contaminated dish or cleaning cloths.
According to AHS numbers, in 2016, South Zone inspectors completed 5,152 inspections including 1,479 in Lethbridge.
Some establishments had to be closed to the public at some point for an undetermined amount of time. This could include one site closing more than once.
Elumir explains that while there is some discretion used, a restaurant is closed only when the risk for potential illness is much too high.
"It's always based on risk. So if something's happened that can't be amended that second, and they're saying 'this could cause potential illness and I can not see it being fixed in time for your next customer', then that's when an executive (order) comes out."
But Elumir adds that inspectors also work closely with food establishments to try and prevent them from closing down to begin with.
For more information on restaurant health inspections, go to https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/eph/Page3149.aspx
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