Food inspector crunch looms

With Ottawa’s year-long Canada 150 celebrations creeping closer, Ottawa Public Health claims it can handle the pressure of ensuring a safe 2017 for all.

But the city agency responsible for food inspections and other health-related monitoring has acknowledged that events surrounding the 150th anniversary of Canada will “stretch” its resources and could result in dropping routine inspections of certain “low-risk” activities.

In an Oct. 27 report to the Ottawa Board of Health, Dr. Isra Levy, the city’s Medical Officer, estimated the city would see a 25- to 50-per-cent increase in the number of special event investigations performed by inspectors in 2017 compared to most years .

Further, OPH expects “the scope (attendance numbers) and complexity (number of special event vendors) of 2017 events will require supplementary inspections, re-inspections and complaint response in order to ensure public safety.”

According to the City of Ottawa’s website, public health inspectors are responsible for inspecting and investigating food, water, health hazards and other related complaints in various public premises and at mass gatherings.

The report stated that the millions of Canadians and foreign visitors expected to descend on the capital will have “the potential to significantly stretch OPH’s ability to commit resources to ensuring the maintenance of all core operations, due to the increased presence of staff required at events” — all while the health authority is currently struggling to meet inspection targets.

“I guess we’re hedging our bets,” Levy stated at a Nov. 3 health board meeting when asked how the city planned to meet the demands of the year.

“We have already applied for  provincial funding for special events. We might be able to attract the same kind of funding for public health that happened during the Pan Am Games (in Toronto in 2015).”

Levy said if OPH couldn’t secure provincial funding, it would look to local sources or move “public inspectors from routine work (deemed) to be managing low-risk scenarios.”

To celebrate the country’s sesquicentennial, the city has planned several large-scale events, such as Red Bull Crashed Ice, the Grey Cup and YOWttawa, a two-day music festival. 

“We have the Ottawa 2017 events, we have the national events relating to the 150th anniversary, but we also have the community events that happen every year,” said OPH program development officer Dominique Bremner.  “It’s not just one event in a concentrated time period. A lot of the events happen concurrently, they overlap with each other.” 

Bremner said OPH has been working with various experts for almost a year to develop a proper planning framework and task force for the anniversary year. 

She stressed how OPH is not anticipating any elevated overall public health risk in 2017, just a year-long boost to Ottawa’s population. 

The OPH expects to hear back from the province by March about the funding request.