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Restaurants near University of Waterloo plagued with poor inspection results



Experts say public health not doing enough to fine, highlight bad actors

From court summons to ordered closures, two commercial plazas near the University of Waterloo continue to have health inspection issues across multiple tenant restaurants.

Five restaurants in the area have had critical food safety infractions in the past 30 days, but the issues date back much further.

In September 2019 CBC reported on four restaurants in the Campus Courts Plaza that had food seized and destroyed by health inspectors in the span of two months.

Then in January of 2020 it was found that two other restaurants in the same area received court summons, following a spate of health issues.

Mizu's year of failed inspections
The Region of Waterloo Public Health department runs a website that details health inspection results for restaurant, salon, hotel and other service providers in the region.

Mizu Restaurant at 150 University Ave. W. was one of the four restaurants to have its food destroyed in September 2019. The site shows the same thing happened at a subsequent inspection in October.

Since then, Mizu has had five visits from public health. On each occasion the restaurant has been cited for critical issues with food contamination.

In one instance the restaurant was not "protected against the entry and harbouring of pests," and three times it was cited for storing food on the floor.

When CBC K-W contacted the restaurant, staff at Mizu provided the phone number for an owner, but they could not be reached for comment.

When Region of Waterloo Public Health was asked how inspectors deal with chronic offenders, a spokesperson responded that "in cases like this, we would increase our monitoring through re-inspections and take progressive enforcement actions in order to gain compliance."

"Our progressive enforcement approach when education has been exhausted includes issuing tickets with set fines that range anywhere between approximately $100 to $500 per charge. If there is continued ongoing non-compliance then we could issue a summons to appear in provincial court," the region's public health department said.

In the five inspections Mizu had since Oct. 2019, the reports show that no fines were levied despite critical issues being found each time.

In the two latest visits from inspectors in early August, Mizu was issued a combined 20 infractions — making it the most offending restaurant in Waterloo region.

"You can't inspect your way to food safety," says Keith Warriner, a food science professor at the University of Guelph.

He says that inspectors need to hand out more penalties and restaurants need to be faced with higher fines or the threat of closure as they continue to offend.

Problems persist through plaza
Waterloo Star, west of Mizu in the University Shops Plaza, was closed by Region of Waterloo Public Health in early July.

The inspection report notes the restaurant had failed to protect against the "entry, harbouring and breeding of pests," and should contact a pest control company.

The owner of Waterloo Star said in an interview with CBC that he had been running the restaurant for 15 years and this was the first time it had ever been closed by health inspectors. He added that the building was 25 years old. After closure he did substantial renovations to the kitchen area, doing all that was required by the inspector, he said.

According to Region of Waterloo Public Health, five days after the closure order, Waterloo Star was reinspected and found to have no issues.

According to the inspection reports, the University Shops Plaza is home to three more restaurants with poor inspection records in August. Each received at least three infractions, including a critical infraction related to food safety.

"What often happens is that one feeds off the others," Warriner said of the apparent trend. "It's just like people saying 'Well, look, they're getting away with this, why shouldn't we do the same?'"

Fixing the culture
There are two ways to change health and hygiene culture at restaurants, says Warriner. The first is harsh penalties from inspectors, and the second is for consumers to simply stop going.

The latter only happens if consumers have the right information and the system in Waterloo pales in comparison to Toronto's DineSafe, he said.

In Toronto, restaurants are required to prominently display a red, yellow or green sign in their restaurant. The colour is connected to the results of the business's last inspection.

Jim Chan, a former Toronto Health Inspector who helped put the DineSafe program in place, said it has led to a substantial increase in restaurant compliance.

In 2001, when DineSafe was first introduced, the compliance rate was around 78 per cent. "Two or three years later it went up to 85 per cent and now it's around 90 to 92 percent compliance," he said.

The Region of Waterloo's Public Health department runs a website where consumers can proactively search out inspection reports for restaurants, but that's an imperfect system, says Chan.

"If you don't have a smart phone or tablet with you, how are you going to search it?" Chan asked.

People have a right to know, he said, "they're not going to spend two, three hours to look into a website before they even go for lunch or dinner."