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Local health unit addresses food safety during the pandemic



Over the course of the past nearly 11 months, tough times, financial times, have driven people to try to find new and innovative ways to work from home, bringing in whatever extra money they can find. Some are looking at their skills in the kitchen as a way to supplement their incomes, but there is more to it than simply getting down to cooking.

“Some people may have started a new home business that involves food to help make some extra money,” said Susan Healey of the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit. “For people who are thinking of opening a food-related business in their home, it is important to do your research before starting.”

Public Health Inspectors are available and able to give much-needed guidance to help people who set up in-home food businesses, whether bakeries, meal services, or restaurants. They can steer people through the process and help prevent costly errors that could set a business back or shut it down completely.

“Food businesses (restaurants or in a home setting) must be approved not only by the health unit but by your local municipality,” said Healey. “Those starting a home-based food business must have a kitchen that complies with the Ontario Building Code, the Ontario Fire Code, municipal zoning by-laws and the Ontario Food Premises Regulations.”

Most food businesses need to be inspected to help protect the publics’ health. These include bakeries, food retail stores, food processors, caterers, restaurants, and home-based food businesses.

“Under the Health Protection and Promotion Act a ‘food premises’ means a premises where food or milk is manufactured, processed, prepared, stored, handled, displayed, distributed, transported, sold or offered for sale,” she said. “Whether you sell directly from home, deliver, or sell online these regulations still apply.

“Anyone intending to operate a food premises must notify the health unit in which they wish to operate. A food premises cannot operate without prior approval from the health unit because we need to ensure that the food prepared will be safe for consumption and that safety protocols are in place for staff.”

At least one person who has Food Handler Certification must be on the premises during operating hours and standards must be maintained.

“While operating during COVID-19, there are extra rules for keeping the workplace safe, including actively screening all employees for COVID-19 before every shift, using personal protective equipment including masks and most importantly having a workplace safety plan,” said Healey. “The health unit is here to help guide the opening and operating of food premises.”

In the interest of keeping people as safe and healthy as possible during these challenging times, Healey encourages all who are interested in opening in-home food services of any kind to visit the food safety section of www.healthunit.org which has several sections on the topic, including take-out food and keeping ones home food preparation and storage safe. Anyone can contact the local health unit at contact@healthunit.org or 1-800-660-5853.