Food safety is an important topic to Team Easy Ice. And it should be important to you too — especially when you dine out and have less control. Food safety includes ice safety. Unsanitary conditions, mishandling of ice or a dirty ice machine can cause food borne illness, just like…well…food!

To emphasize the importance of food safety, we reached out to retired Health Inspector, Jim Chan. Jim started as a rookie health inspector in Toronto in 1977. He ended his 30+ career as Food Safety Manager at Toronto Public Health, with 80 food safety inspectors working for him delving into all areas of public foodservice including restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals, grocers and day-care centers. Jim was known as Toronto’s most recognizable face of food safety.

Jim is so passionate about food safety, that he continues in the field as a consultant and speaker. Having always been a “doodler”, Jim puts a humorous spin on food safety using his cartoon, Ralphie the Rat, on his website and Facebook page, Health Inspectors Notebook. Jim also tweets frequently about food safety issues.

We’re honored to have Jim share his expertise with you. Look for more from Jim, as well as an upcoming interview, here on the Easy Ice blog in upcoming months. Now here’s Jim!

Next time when you eat out, do you want to know how safe the restaurant is? If your local health department has a website that discloses food safety inspection records, you are in luck. Even better if inspection results are posted at the restaurant entrance. Pick one that has a good record or has a ‘Pass’ sign. While you are at the restaurant and before you even get a table, check for signs of what could be happening behind the scenes or red flags on possible health violations.

Food Safety Tips (be your own Health Inspector!)

1. Check the entrance

See if the entrance is clean and tidy, than checks to see if the menus are clean and not sticky. A dirty entrance & a sticky menu can indicate a lack of attention to detail and a poor attitude to cleanliness.

Pay attention to the way the restaurant smells. Any whiff of garbage is an obvious sign, but if you smell stale grease or sewage odor, that could mean that there may be a blocked drain or sewer drain or they are not cleaning and sanitizing the place properly.

Check out the floor. Do you see any signs of rodent droppings?

The next thing is to check out the servers. They are the ones who will be handing your food, so  take a close look to see if they wear clean outfit or uniform, are their hands and fingernails clean. See if they touching their face, hair or mouth a lot, coughing into hands and biting their nails? If yes, find a different place to dine.

2. Check out the bar

A lot of people don’t think of the bartender as a food handler but bad bartender behavior can indicate food safety problems. See if the bartender washes his or her hands between handling money and food items, like a lemon-wedge garnish. Watch how careful the ice is being handled & stored. Nothing should be stored in beverage ice, including the ice scoop, as ice can be cross-contaminated with pathogens such as virus and bacteria that can cause illness.

3. Check the washrooms

You may not be allowed to go in the kitchen, but a quick check at the washroom can give important clues about how clean the rest of the restaurant is. See if the washroom has hot water, soap and paper towels or hand dryer. This can be an indication if the handwashing station in the kitchen is also properly outfitted. If the washroom smells like sewage, there could be a possible drainage problems in the kitchen as well.

health inspectors notebook

4. Open kitchen

Open kitchens give you a good indication of how the chefs handle the food. Beyond general cleanliness such as clean cutting boards, see if ingredients and food such as eggs, milk and meat are not left out when they should be refrigerated. See if they wash their hands properly between tasks with soap, and dry their hands with a paper towel, not on their apron or with a dirty cloth.

5. Check the cutlery

If the cutlery and glasses on the table are dirty and have dried food, fingerprints, grease or lipstick marks, it can mean that there is a problem in the dish washing system as well as a poor quality assurance program in the restaurant.

Food safety must be a priority for restaurants!  And with these tips, you can act as your food safety health inspector.