Restaurant inspections move to complaint-based model as P.E.I. tries to limit COVID-19 risk

P.E.I.’s chief medical officer Dr. Heather Morrison says restaurant inspections in the province will be handled on a complaints basis, as the food service industry tries to adapt to operating through the coronavirus pandemic, and the province tries to limit the virus’ spread.

Health Department has ‘reached out’ to businesses over concerns

Some P.E.I. restaurants have implemented no-contact takeout and delivery services since the province shut down dining rooms and bars two weeks ago over concerns around the spread of the coronavirus. (Peter McCabe/CP)

P.E.I.'s chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says restaurant inspections in the province are now being handled on a complaints basis, as the food service industry tries to adapt to operating through the coronavirus pandemic and the province tries to limit the virus' spread.

On Monday, Morrison said the province has already "reached out" to some operators, "especially if we have any indication of some concerns around certain businesses … maybe doing drive-thru or takeout."

Last week, the province said it had received 41 complaints related to businesses on its COVID-19 information line, but it's not clear whether any of those were related to restaurant operations.

It's been two weeks now since Morrison ordered bars and dining rooms to close.

Some restaurants shut down operations entirely. Others have adapted, offering pickup and delivery, in many cases developing systems so food can be delivered without any physical contact between staff and customers.

P.E.I.'s Department of Health has published recommendations for food-service operators to help them continue feeding customers while minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19.

'New territory for everybody'

The P.E.I. Restaurant Association has been involved in efforts to try to make restaurant operators aware of the recommendations.

"It's new territory for everybody," said president Carl Nicholson.

President Carl Nicholson said the P.E.I. Restaurant Association was contacted by the provincial Department of Health the day before dining rooms and bars were ordered closed on March 17. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses are all "working through the same thing," Nicholson said. 

"Trying to maintain those social distances and use the sanitation guidelines in order to keep all of the products that we're selling safe."

'Unlikely' virus will spread through food, says province

According to the documents prepared by the Department of Health, it's "unlikely" the coronavirus can be passed along through food. 

"Experience with SARS and other similar viruses suggest[s] that people are not infected with the virus through food," according to a document entitled Food Premises on P.E.I.: COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions.

P.E.I.'s chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison said restaurant inspections in the province will proceed on a complaints basis, and that concerns about some restaurants have already resulted in the province having 'reached out' to the businesses in question. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

"Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects for short periods of time (a few hours to a few days)."

Some of the recommendations contained in that document and a second handout containing COVID-19 safety tips for food service operators are:

  • Drop at door deliveries should be the standard, to prevent contact between the delivery person and the customer. Handoffs at the drive-thru should be without contact.

  • Payment should be by credit or debit card, preferably done online.

  • Food premises should "consider creating an enhanced cleaning and sanitizing schedule" focusing on frequently-touched surfaces like doorknobs, soap dispensers and light switches.

  • Staff should maintain physical distancing, and should not be permitted on-site if they are sick.

One of the documents states that if food premises can't provide takeout, delivery or drive-thru service "in a safe manner, then the premises must close."

Quick pivot to 'contactless service'

Sarah Bennetto O'Brien, owner and chef with the P.E.I. Handpie Company in Albany, said the past two weeks have been "a little bit wild" not just for her but for everyone in the food services industry.

Sarah Bennetto O'Brien of the P.E.I. Handpie Company says operators have had to 'pivot very quickly' to provide delivery systems that eliminate contact with customers. (Cody Gallant)

"Speaking as a small business owner, I mean we have had to pivot very quickly to offering much more of a contactless service," said Bennetto O'Brien.

The Handpie Company quickly developed a contact-free pickup service where customers place their orders online and choose a time slot for pickup from their processing facility.

"Then they give us a call whenever they come into the parking lot and pop the trunk and we run it right out and we're doing like a trunk-drop delivery service," said Bennetto O'Brien.

She said Island businesses are sharing information on best practices among themselves, but a visit from a health inspector would be welcome "to go over not just the regulations but giving a little bit of coaching of how we can all absolutely ensure safety, because trust me, that's the first concern for all of us."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

    But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

    Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

    What should I do if I feel sick?

    Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

    How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


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