Tag Archives: Dinesafe

Eat Your Words: Toronto Horsemeat Restaurant La Palette Public Health Disclosures

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"La Palette", protest, toronto, "Queen Street West" , "french restaurant", horse, horsemeat

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

The summer of 2012 was one where activists demonstrated almost every week against horsemeat restaurant La Palette on Queen St. West.  During that time we started paying attention to La Palette’s food safety evaluations under the “DineSafe” program operated by Toronto Public Health.  The program features an Interactive map of every restaurant,  grocery,  cafe and take-out joint that’s been closed by Toronto Public Health since 2001. If we hadn’t been watching, we would have missed a wonderful exercise in schadenfraude – partway through our demonstrations we read on the DineSafe website that Palette received a “conditional pass,” results of which are in the public domain. Restaurants are required to prominently display this information on the front of their entrances (known to Torontonians as “Scores on Doors”),  and when arriving one evening to protest, we were amused to see that a potted plant

La Palette Toronto Public Health Report - courtesy of a protester

2012: La Palette Toronto Public Health Report – courtesy of a protester (notice plant partially obscuring the sign on window)

appeared out of nowhere and partially obscured the signage. La Palette appears to be a restaurant that’s now regularly considered to be “medium/high risk” by the Health Department since in 2014, two years after that conditional pass, they are still being audited 3 times a year. That in itself is probably not atypical for a resto serving multiple meat dishes, some of which are served raw,  but the findings are interesting none the less.

Jim Chan, head of Toronto Public Health’s food-safety program, explains that Toronto Public Health uses a risk-assessment system to figure out how frequently to inspect any given establishment, whether it’s a hot dog cart or a hotel kitchen. Here’s how it works:

HIGH-RISK PREMISES (Inspected three times a year or more): “The more complicated the food preparation, the higher the food-safety risk. “Think of a restaurant with multiple items on the menu, with raw food and ready-to-eat food,” says Chan. “Think of a hospital kitchen, or a long-term-care-home kitchen. If these operators are not careful, it increases the risk of food poisoning.”

MEDIUM-RISK PREMISES (Inspected twice a year or more): “Lots of people think McDonald’s would be high-risk, but it’s medium-risk,” says Chan. “Everything is generic: You have frozen patties, and there’s one way to cook them and one way to serve them.” Other medium-risk establishments: most pizza places, bakeries, sub shops and cafés.

LOW-RISK PREMISES (Inspected once a year or more): “When you look at a 7-Eleven, where all they have is a few hot dogs on a rotisserie, or they sell chips, pre-packaged sandwiches, stuff like that, they’ll be low-risk.” Ditto for Starbucks and most convenience stores.”

"La Palette", horsemeat, protest, "Toronto restaurant" , "french restaurant" , horse

Shamez Amlani,  co-owner of La Palette,  engages a protester

A typical tactic of La Palette during protests was to go out into the street and start serving raw horsemeat to passersby.  In some respects this isn’t entirely a bad thing – when they give away food it means they aren’t selling it.  But whenever I think about eating raw meat, I feel an eating disorder coming on.  I get a little panicky when I think that people, perhaps unknowingly, are eating food I’ve been taught to avoid – even moreso because it’s horsemeat. Personally I don’t get it. It is clear that there are absolutely no critical control points to minimize the risk of infection with the consumption of raw horsemeat.

Here’s last year’s summary of audit findings served up online along with an inspection from 2015 (some of which are highlighted as “significant”).  All findings seem confined to washing, sanitizing, preventing contamination of foods/surfaces – all actions you’d want a restaurant to have figured out after years in operation and several previous cautions by Toronto Public Health.

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  •  OPERATE FOOD PREMISE – FAIL TO EQUIP FACILITY WITH WASTE RECEPTACLE O. REG 562/90 SEC. 68(3)(D)
  • Operator fail to properly wash equipment  (mutiple observations)
  • Operator fail to properly wash surfaces in rooms (multiple observations)
  • Operator fail to sanitize garbage containers as required
  • OPERATOR FAIL TO ENSURE CAP WILL PREVENT CONTAMINATION OR ADULTERATION O. REG 562/90 SEC. 59(C)(II)
  • OPERATOR FAIL TO ENSURE SINGLE-SERVICE CONTAINERS KEPT IN MANNER PREVENTING CONTAMINATION O. REG 562/90 SEC. 59(D)
  • OPERATOR FAIL TO ENSURE COVER WILL PREVENT CONTAMINATION OR ADULTERATION O. REG 562/90 SEC. 59(C)(II)
  • FAIL TO PROVIDE THERMOMETER IN STORAGE COMPARTMENT O. REG 562/90 SEC. 21

None of the above issues mean that La Palette will get anything less than a green “Pass” evaluation,  and unless a diner takes the time to look up the last audit on the DineSafe website they will not be aware of the  individual infractions.   Since the inception of the program however, only 4 restaurants in Toronto have actually lost their license.

I doubt that any pretentious,  self-indulgent, horse-eating foodies will be tangentially concerned with food hygiene anyway – chefs are some of the least reliable people to ask about safely cooking food to eliminate bacterial (or parasitic) contamination.  And trendy executive chefs like former heroin addict Anthony Bourdain have long popularized the idea that eating”good” food needs to involve some element of risk.  And raw horsemeat = trichinosis roulette.

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Honk If You Like Honking! La Palette Horsemeat Protest – June 15th

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La Palette Horsemeat Protest June 15th

La Palette Horsemeat Protest June 15th (Thanks as always to our vegan supporters)

Written by Heather Clemenceau

All artwork/photography copyright Heather Clemenceau (use with permission only please)

Queen Street West  in front of La Palette –  where protesters against horsemeat have revived the lost art of honking.  Here,  tonight,  honking is no longer interpreted as something hostile, like a rude gesture, or a jab in the side in a crowded elevator. Tonight,  honkers in cars and on bicyclettes honk to reach out to us,  and show support.  We have determined, via direct scientific observation of the La Palette subjects,  that the management DOES NOT support the social compact between us and the public.  It does not seem to matter whether the honking is delivered via the delicate jangle of a bicycle bell,  the tentative toot of a car horn, or in a full blast of a transport truck,  they do not appreciate it.  In fact,  they roll the patio doors closed – on a sweltering hot June day – the patrons are being slowly cooked,  quite unlike the tartare!  La Palette co-owner Shamez enquired,  rather like a host asking his guests who have overstayed their welcome, when we might be leaving?  Normally,  when I want my guests to leave,  I start putting on the “showtunes,”  but I have no intention of alerting Shamez to this tactic (unless of course,  he happens to read about it first-hand here).

Queen Street West,  near La Palette

Queen Street West, near La Palette

The news this week is that we became aware that La Palette received a “conditional pass” by Toronto Public Health,  results of which are in the public domain and can be viewed as part of the “DineSafe” program. As a customer, the best thing to do is read up on any premises’ DineSafe rating before choosing to patronize any restaurant/grocery etc. Toronto Public Health publishes an Interactive map of every restaurant,  grocery,  cafe and take-out joint that’s been closed by Toronto Public Health since 2001. To sum up,  below are the findings for La Palette,  which led to the conditional pass:

  • INADEQUATE FOOD TEMPERATURE CONTROL (This is rated as “critical” by Toronto Public Health)
  • IMPROPER MAINTENANCE / SANITATION OF FOOD CONTACT SURFACES / UTENSILS /EQUIPMENT
  • IMPROPER MAINTENANCE / SANITATION OF NON-FOOD CONTACT SURFACES / EQUIPMENT
  • IMPROPER STORAGE / REMOVAL OF WASTE
  • FAILURE TO PROTECT FOOD FROM CONTAMINATION
  • BY-LAW #574-2000 INFRACTIONS
la Palette Inspection by Toronto Public Health - page 1

La Palette Inspection by Toronto Public Health (click to jump to the official source document)

Jim Chan, head of Toronto Public Health’s food-safety program,  explains that Toronto Public Health uses a risk-assessment system to figure out how frequently to inspect any given establishment, whether it’s a hot dog cart or a hotel kitchen. Here’s how it works:

“HIGH-RISK PREMISES (Inspected three times a year or more): The more complicated the food preparation, the higher the food-safety risk. “Think of a restaurant with multiple items on the menu, with raw food and ready-to-eat food,” says Chan. “Think of a hospital kitchen, or a long-term-care-home kitchen. If these operators are not careful, it increases the risk of food poisoning.”

MEDIUM-RISK PREMISES (Inspected twice a year or more): “Lots of people think McDonald’s would be high-risk, but it’s medium-risk,” says Chan. “Everything is generic: You have frozen patties, and there’s one way to cook them and one way to serve them.” Other medium-risk establishments: most pizza places, bakeries, sub shops and cafés.

LOW-RISK PREMISES (Inspected once a year or more): “When you look at a 7-Eleven, where all they have is a few hot dogs on a rotisserie, or they sell chips, pre-packaged sandwiches, stuff like that, they’ll be low-risk.” Ditto for Starbucks and most convenience stores.”

According to the inspection schedule,  It seems that La Palette could perhaps reduce the number of inspections required for their resto from three to two per year by eliminating raw food such as horse or venison tartare,  for example.  Eating raw meat is asking for a parasitic infestation –  it’s a fact that raw meat may contain harmful bacteria, including salmonella, listeria, campylobacter and E. coli that can cause food poisoning. These bacteria are destroyed when meat is correctly cooked.  Unless you’re Anthony Bourdain, who quite often treats his GI tract like a toxic-waste dump,  most people wouldn’t consider  eating raw meat and it’s not recommended for young children, elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.

When I think about eating raw meat,  I feel an eating disorder coming on.  Personally,  I don’t eat meat,  not only because of the cruelty to all meat-producing animals,  but because pro-slaughter advocates are very cavalier about drug toxicology,  about which they know NADA,  and Big Ag is equally as cavalier.  Pro-slaughter horse advocates whine about “wasting meat” but what they don’t understand is that euthanized horses (or any animal) which are composted or buried become part of the carbon cycle,  without which life on earth would cease.  Also,  having an education in biology,  I get a little panicky when I think that people,  perhaps unknowingly,  are eating food I’ve been taught to avoid.  It seems every day there’s another recall of tainted meat,  or in the case of horsemeat – a recall due to contamination by phenylbutazone.  It’s little wonder that health authorities go apoplectic when they hear stories of consumers willingly chowing down on raw meat. You can get really, really sick. Or worse. Cooking meat is a safety issue.

Sometimes people will say, “Show me a horse that’s got trichinosis,” or “Prove to me that anyone’s ever gotten sick eating horsemeat.”  I usually suggest those people go to Pubmed and start poking around,  where there is plenty of evidence.  Most disease is actually “idiopathic” – without known or attributable cause or mechanism.  Case in point,  if you ask a person who is suffering from cancer to define the cause of their disease,  in all likelihood,  neither they nor their oncologist will be able to precisely pinpoint a cause.  While scientists know that Parkinson’s disease is caused by cellular death,  they don’t yet know what causes that cellular death.  Hence Parkinson’s is another one (of many) examples of idiopathic disease.  But many of the Pubmed entries you can find about diseases associated with consuming horsemeat or meat in general are very precise in arriving at their conclusions – these case studies have pinpointed the cause and effect.  All you need is one serving to make you really ill – especially if you’re eating it raw.   Anthony Bourdain, who explains the philosophy or eating,  well,  pretty much anything that humans can catch and kill,  in his book Kitchen Confidential, “Good eating is all about risk. ”  Yes,  I suppose the way Bourdain eats,  that’s completely true  – it’s about as risky as a dalliance in organized crime.  I propose that we send Bourdain and other foodie freaks into the animal’s natural habitat,  and watch them cope with their natural defences – that’s an assumed risk that would be quite entertaining.  Even an animal experiencing its death throes is still capable of one final insult to the person attempting to eat it.

Toronto Public Health - La Palette earns a conditional pass

Toronto Public Health – La Palette earns a conditional pass

If we review the recent history of La Palette’s food inspections,  we can see that they have passed their inspections at least since July 2010.  We know that the management hasn’t changed,  so we can only speculate as to why they have only received a conditional pass in May 2012.  Shamez Amlani probably had no idea that La Palette’s  “Scandalicious” menu,  named for the “Winterlicious” dining festival,  would transition into such an ominous foreshadowing.  The proverbial heat is on – for food safety and for horses.  We will continue to respectfully request that La Palette remove horsemeat from its menu,  thereby reducing its impact on cruel animal slaughter practices and the possible unintended consequences of supplying their clientele with veterinary drug residues. But in the meantime,  we will do what protesters do – get the word out,  and continue to solicit support for our message by encouraging honking – we love it even if Shamez does not.

La Palette tweet - the heat is on

La Palette tweet – the heat is on

Information on Phenylbutazone contamination in horsemeat

Information on Phenylbutazone contamination in horsemeat