Frequently Asked Questions

What are the coloured signs being displayed in food establishments and what do they mean?

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit has added a new colour-coded signage component to its inspection reporting system for food business establishments operating in the EOHU region. The signage will allow the public to easily see a summary of inspection results when they visit a food establishment.

The new signage component is being rolled out starting with premises that prepare, process or handle food, and will progressively expand to all food premises. Once an establishment has been inspected, a Public Health Inspector issues one of three coloured EOHU Inspection sign, based on the inspection results: Pass (Green)Conditional Pass (Yellow), or Closed (Red). The operator is expected to post the sign immediately at or near the main public entrance to the establishment so that it is clearly visible to members of the public.

Why does the EOHU perform food establishment inspections?

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit is mandated under the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act to inspect all food premises to make sure that food is stored, prepared and served safely.

In order to ensure that safe food is being served, food establishment operators must comply with the regulations and meet requirements made by the Medical Officer of Health. Public health inspectors ensure this through routine inspections, re-inspections, complaints follow-ups and food safety audits. Public health inspectors encourage compliance mainly through education and promotion. However, they may also use enforcement.

What types of food establishments are inspected?

Establishments that are inspected include, among others:

  • restaurants
  • cafeterias
  • chip stands
  • catering services
  • food and convenience stores
  • daycares and nurseries
  • nursing homes and lodging homes

Food premises in private residences are not inspected.

What do public health inspectors look for during a food establishment inspection?

Public health inspectors examine:

  • food sources
  • how food is handled
  • sanitary condition of the facility
  • equipment condition and function
  • dishware sanitization
  • pest control
  • chemical storage
  • maintenance
  • safety of drinking water supply
  • sewage disposal

How often are food establishments inspected?

Food establishments are visited one to three times a year, depending on whether they are assessed to be low-risk, moderate-risk or high-risk. Inspections may also be conducted in response to complaints.

What are low-risk food establishments?

Low-risk food establishments or premises are those where food is rarely or never being directly handled (e.g. the grocery section of a supermarket, a food depot, a convenience store). These premises are inspected once a year.

What are moderate-risk food establishments?

Moderate-risk food establishments or premises are typically average-sized restaurants with moderate to high levels of food handling. These premises are inspected twice a year.

What are high-risk food establishments?

High-risk food establishments or premises serve a high-risk population (e.g. the kitchen of a seniors’ home or hospital). High-risk food establishments could also include restaurants with a history of repeated non-compliance, with cases of foodborne illnesses within the previous year, or whose operations involve the handling of large quantities of food. These establishments are inspected three times a year.

What is a critical infraction?

A critical infraction is a violation of food regulations which involve the handling of food, and which could lead to foodborne illness. Examples of critical infractions include inadequate refrigeration, freezing, cooking, hot holding, reheating, and food temperatures. These conditions are especially important with potentially hazardous foods, which are those capable of supporting the growth of harmful microorganisms and/or the production of their toxins (e.g. meats, rice dishes, eggs, dairy products). Other critical infractions may refer to:

  • whether food is covered
  • whether food is stored off the floor
  • whether there is a separate handwashing sink provided and used in the food preparation areas
  • whether a sneeze guard is used, where applicable

What is a non-critical infraction?

A non-critical infraction is a violation that doesn’t relate directly to food handling. It is a violation that may impact the overall sanitary condition of the food establishment and which may slightly affect food safety. Non-critical infractions may be issued for the failure to follow regulations such as the use of thermometers to verify food storage temperatures, the use of hairnets or hats by food handlers, appropriate dishwashing techniques and availability of handwashing supplies in washrooms for staff and customers.

What happens if a food establishment doesn’t follow regulations?

If a facility doesn’t follow regulations, the public health inspector can take a variety of actions, including:

  • give a verbal order, followed by a written one, regarding a health hazard (these orders tell the operator to do or refrain from doing something regarding a health hazard)
  • serve an offence notice (i.e. a “ticket”) to fine the owner or operator
  • seize and destroy food that could put the public’s health and safety at risk
  • serve a summons (a notice to appear in front of a provincial court)
  • close a restaurant if a health hazard exists that can affect the health of the public

How long does a food establishment have to correct an infraction?

Sometimes, operators correct infractions right away. If this happens, the report will read Corrected on site or Corrected during inspection (CDI). If a problem can’t be corrected right away, and doesn’t threaten the health and safety of the public, or if a short-term measure can be put into place, the inspector can give a time by which the issue has to be fixed (e.g. provide a clearly readable thermometer in the walk-in cooler within two weeks).

What is a closure?

An operator might choose to close his/her food premises until a serious issue has been dealt with (e.g. a rodent problem). This is called a “voluntary closure”.

If a food establishment fails to correct a serious health hazard, a closure order may be issued by the public health inspector.

How do I make a complaint against a food establishment?

To make a complaint against a food establishment in the five Eastern Counties: Call the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and a follow-up will be done within 24 hours. You can call Health Line at 613-933-1375 or 1 800 267-7120.

For complaints about foods that are processed, pre-packaged, ready-to-eat, canned or frozen: Please contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) at 1 800 442-2342.

For complaints about meat and poultry slaughterhouses and processing plants: Please contact the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) at 1 877 424-1300. The office will refer you to the appropriate specialist depending on the nature of the complaint.