Food Poisoning Doesn’t have a Religion

A number of years ago, I got food poisoning and it wasn’t fun. As I recently heard someone say, “I needed two toilets.” So did everyone else who attended the function, and a number who didn’t.

The Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council Retreat was held in the GRCA boardroom that year. WRCPC hired a local caterer who provided breakfast and who will remain nameless because, as you will soon see, food poisoning can be complicated.

The people attending the meeting included the Chief of Police, the Head of Social Services, Waterloo Region’s Medical Officer of Health (!), Chair Ken Seiling and numerous councillors and citizens. The left over food was shared with the GRCA staff and I took some fruit home to share with my daughter.

This was a Friday, by Monday, everyone including the GRCA staff and my daughter were sick. Public health took away the remains of my fruit and some other left over buns,etc. The bacteria came from the strawberries and the other poison came from the Norwalk virus. Because people didn’t always use the tongs provided, the food poisoning had spread, through handling, all over the food. A food handler at the caterer’s was also implicated. By the way, wearing plastic gloves doesn’t always prevent the spread of food poisoning but vigorous hand washing does.

The most common infractions when Public Health check restaurants are:

Food not kept too hot or too cold, no place for hand washing, possible contamination of food by other products nearby. For example, storing raw meat above the veggie bin (Does this one sound familiar, home cooks?). General uncleanliness is also a problem, but not as much as those first three. Here’s some excellent information from Region of Waterloo Public Health.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was filling the sinks to do the dishes for the Cedarbrae Breakfast Club. You need three sinks, one with hot soapy water, one with hot rinse water, and one with water containing bleach. I volunteer with members of my church and my minister’s wife and I were commenting that at some church functions, we reverse the order and put the rinse water last instead of the bleach water which you are not supposed to do according to the Health Department.

Which brings me to Ray of Hope. For a number of years, this organization was accepting food from church members and other churches for the 250 plus meals they give to the poor and homeless. Public health cracked down and said they can’t do that, to public outcry. The Waterloo Chronicle was particularly vehement with a satirical cartoon and negative editorial.

Fortunately, follow up articles showed that the community rallied round and the meals are now made in the Ray of Hope inspected kitchen like those of us who make meals for the Breakfast Programs, St. John’s Kitchen and the Out of the Cold.

As my experience shows, the Health Department isn’t against people making meals for the poor or saying that church goers have dirty kitchens. They are trying to keep us all safe from food poisoning. The recent Maple Leaf listeria outbreak shows that contaminated food may not have originated in a home kitchen at all but may have been bought at the supermarket in good faith.

We are entering the season of church potlucks and events. The provincial regulations provide an exception so people can continue the wonderful tradition of occasional homemade food.

However, as I know so well, food poisoning can lurk anywhere. That’s why every potluck dish should have the maker’s name and phone number on it or on a list. So if there is a problem, public health can track the food down and test it.

When making food at home, wash your hands thoroughly. Make sure hot dishes are kept hot and cold, cold. Don’t leave them in your car or on a counter. Get out the bleach after preparing ground meat, chicken or turkey.

The ingredients of each dish should be listed and displayed publicly so those with allergies will know what is in it. I have a friend who can die from shellfish. A member of my church has celiac disease. It’s only right that churches should welcome them.

You don’t want the people you know and love to end up with food poisoning. Believe, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.


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