Health violations at chain restaurants have gone up in the last few years, according to the province’s chief health inspector.

“We find that the vast majority of restaurateur operators are very diligent, very conscious [and] don’t want to get people sick,” said Mike LeBlanc, Manitoba’s chief health inspector. “They just need a reminder sometimes.”

LeBlanc’s department monitors restaurants, fining and closing those that are not in compliance.

CBC’s I-Team investigated 13 chain restaurants in the province for any infractions between Fall 2012 and fall 2013, including A&W, Boston Pizza, KFC, KFC/Taco Bell, McDonalds, Moxie’s, Pizza Hut, Second Cup, Starbucks, Subway, Swiss Chalet, The Keg, Tim Horton’s and Wendy’s.

A total of 451 locations were examined, and 70 had what experts say are serious health code violations including things like improper temperature, cleanliness, pest infestations and food handling issues.

Fast food

CBC's I-Team looked at 13 popular restaurant chains in Manitoba and found 70 infractions over 451 locations in a one-year timespan. (CBC's Marketplace)

Only The Keg and Swiss Chalet had no violations in that time frame – but they also had the fewest Winnipeg locations of the 13 chains.

Winnipegger Cheryl Cooperband said the results are not comforting.

“This is horrific,” she said. “These are restaurants everybody goes to.”

Winnipegger Jason Diamond said he pays close attention to health violations at restaurants.

Diamond said he was diagnosed with food poisoning, and he believes it was due to a burger he ate at a food chain.

“I was on my knees with my head in the chair in the ER waiting for the doctor to see me,” said Diamond.

Now, he worries it will happen again.

“I’m paranoid about where I eat. I inspect bathrooms and try to see into kitchens and look at the carpet and the general cleanliness of the restaurant,” he said.

Local or chain restaurants better?

Ron Boyko owns The Fudge Guy at The Forks. He prepares all his food while customers watch.

“[We] haven’t been written up at all, ever. We’re wide open. Everyone can see what we do,” he said.

LeBlanc said chains are no more likely to have infractions than locally-owned restaurants.

“Chain restaurants actually, I’d say, probably fare a bit better than independent ma and pa type places,” he said. “They have internal control people. They have internal standards. The district manager might drop in every couple of weeks and do his own sort of little inspection.”

Restaurant chains respond

None of the chains CBC’s I-Team investigated wanted to go on tape, nor did the Manitoba Restaurant Association.

But some chains did supply a written comment to CBC. Boston Pizza, Swiss Chalet, The Keg and A&W did not.

McDonald’s statement began with, “Food safety and quality are a top priority for McDonald’s Canada and we hold all of our restaurants to high standards that meet all provincial and municipal food safety legislation.”

Moxie’s confirmed what LeBlanc said about having their own inspections.

In their statement they said, “We continually monitor our food handling procedures and improve them wherever possible. We hire an independent inspection firm to conduct unannounced inspection visits on each of our restaurants to ensure local managers are rigorously following proper procedures.”

Starbucks, Subway and Tim Hortons said health and safety was their top priority, while Second Cup issued a statement that said their operations team “performs regular detailed audits and inspections.”

Finally, Wendy’s offered a short statement saying they take food handling seriously and work hard to continually improve.