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article imageToronto sets up anonymous website to track food-borne illness

By Karen Graham     Jul 25, 2015 in Food
In an effort to track food-borne illnesses that might go undetected, Toronto Public Health (TPH) has set up an anonymous, confidential and voluntary website called GastroBusters.
Quite often, Toronto Public Health says, Canadians with food-borne illnesses just stay home when they become ill, opting not to go to a doctor or report the illness to authorities.
Toronto Board of Health Chair Joe Mihevc was quoted by Food Safety News as saying, "In a report we did five or six years ago, we found that less than 0.5 percent of food poisoning is reported to public health. That’s not really good. Because if it is reported, we can catch the next wave.”
In a report issued in 2013, Toronto Public Health stated that food-borne illnesses had decreased over the last 10 years with about 1,750 cases being reported each year, showing a 30 percent reduction since 2003. But even with the reduction of reported cases, the vast majority of food-borne illnesses are going unreported.
The TPH report on food safety estimates there are 437,000 cases of food-borne illness every year. This means one in every six Toronto residents will experience a food-borne illness every year. In other words, for every illness reported, there are 227 food-borne illnesses that go unreported.
With the establishment of the DineSafe restaurant inspection and disclosure program in 2001, TPH inspects 16,000 food establishments every year. Since the launch of the inspection program, the number of establishments passing their first inspection has increased dramatically.
With the DineSafe protocols in place, inspection results are posted at the front entrance to establishments, and are updated daily online on the DineSafe website.
Miheve says the THP is working toward getting a better handle on the cases that appear after someone eats at a restaurant or other food establishment, at picnics or a backyard barbecue. “So we’re doing a kind of promotional campaign to encourage you that if you’re at your favorite brother-in-law’s, and he gives you a steak that he wasn’t too sure about and you get sick, that we find out about it,” Mihevc said.
The GastroBusters site asks if you have any symptoms of food-borne illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea or other symptoms. The site also asks for your contact information, such as where you live, your gender, age, and the date and time the illness occurred.
People are also asked if they are still exhibiting symptoms and if medical attention was sought. TPH also wants to know if the food-borne illness was contracted at a family gathering, festival, celebration or sporting event. TPH also will want to know if other people became ill, and most important, what food you think might have made you sick.
Although contact information is not required, TPH will follow up on those people providing that information. Mihevc said a recent board of health report showed that food-borne illness costs the Canadian health care system and the economy around $500 million a year.
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