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Finger-licking, coughing chefs: A look into Nunavut's food inspections

Licking fingers while preparing food, coughing over food, and not washing hands were among the worst violations Nunavut's restaurant inspectors reported in 2014 and 2015.

Inspectors recommended Iqaluit's Baffin Deli not be issued a business licence

Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn't make its food service inspection reports readily available to the public. CBC News obtained the reports for 2014 and 2015 through an Access to Information request. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Licking fingers while preparing food, coughing over food, and not washing hands were among the worst violations Nunavut's restaurant inspectors reported in 2014 and 2015.

The violations happened at Iqaluit's Baffin Deli but most customers would be none the wiser, since Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn't make its inspection reports readily available to the public.

CBC News obtained the inspection reports through an Access to Information request.

Iqaluit's Baffin Deli had some of the worst violations reported by Nunavut's Environmental Health Officers during inspections in 2014. (Nick Murray/CBC)

An inspector chemically tested 11 pieces of equipment at Baffin Deli in 2014 to see if those surfaces had been adequately cleaned. All 11 surfaces failed the cleanliness test. The deli was also found to be using Windex to clean a meat slicer.

In follow-up surveys of staff, another inspector found reports of frequent eating and finger-licking while preparing food, not washing hands after handling raw meat products, and that the chef was often coughing directly over food during preparation.

By October 2014 and January 2015, an Environmental Health Officer recommended the deli not be issued a business licence. The City of Iqaluit says the business's licence was never suspended.

An inspection report dated Jan. 28, 2016 also had a number of violations relating to cleanliness and equipment, though none of the more serious issues noted previously.

The issues have since been fixed, according to Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, which owns the deli.

"Baffin Deli recognizes past issues brought forward by the Environmental Health Officers and has taken all appropriate measures to ensure these issues and concerns were rectified," said Peter Keenainak, vice-president of Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, in a statement.

"In 2016 Baffin Deli has received positive reports on their facility and continues with the goal to maintain customer confidence by improving on-the-job safety and food handling standards at the Baffin Deli."

CBC News asked Keenainak for Baffin Deli's latest inspection report from July 2016. Keenainak refused to provide it, saying it wasn't a public document.

Food service establishments can spread illness

"When you take a look at the data, the contributions food service establishments have in terms of numbers of people who come down with food-borne illnesses is quite substantial," said Dr. Rick Holley, a food safety expert from the University of Manitoba. 

"In many jurisdictions, it's actually the number one location where people acquire food-borne illnesses."

"It's really important that we make sure the food service operations have people on staff, present at all times, that have had formal training in food safety."

CBC News requested all of Nunavut's food inspection reports from 2014 and 2015. The Government of Nunavut's health department returned a 769-page document. About 100 inspections from 2016 were also provided. Of the nearly 600 inspections, 32 were illegible and were excluded in this report.

Cleanliness a Nunavut-wide problem

An analysis of the inspections revealed nearly a third of food establishment inspections in Nunavut had at least one violation, largely around food storage and general sanitation practices.

For organizational purposes, CBC News broke down violations into four categories: general sanitation, equipment problems, building repairs, and operational issues.

Of the violations noted by the GN's Environmental Health Officers, the majority pertained to general sanitation. The bulk of the sanitation violations were cases where the establishments needed a good scrubbing, and more regular cleaning.

Other specific examples included one case of poor dishwashing practices — some in which dishwashers were faulty — and cases of food being stored on the floor. In one community in 2014, a number of establishments were found to have unsuitable soap for hand washing.

Food storage temperatures

Many of the violations cited within the inspections also largely centred around food storage and handling.

Most reports cited the need for thermometers within fridges, and for an active recording chart to record those temperatures.

In many other instances, establishments were being written up for storing food at incorrect temperatures — be it hot storage or in the refrigerator.

One inspector scolded an establishment for not checking the final cooking temperature of food, calling it a "major food safety lapse."

Nunavut's Department of Health was unable to accommodate CBC News's request for an interview.

About the Author

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.

With files from Harrison Samphir and Jacques Marcoux

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