#GastroBusters: Toronto's food poisioning reporting tool that restaurants hate

GastroBusters began as a Toronto Public Health's initiative to combat food poisoning, but now it's drawing the ire of the city's chefs and restaurateurs.

Revolt against the city's food borne illness reporting tool

Chefs and restaurant owners argue Toronto Public Health's new GastroBusters service is opening them up to false claims that their food made patrons sick. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

GastroBusters, a Toronto Public Health initiative to combat food poisoning, is drawing the ire of chefs and restaurateurs across the city.

The online GastroBusters service allows diners to report restaurants they believe gave them food poisoning without identifying themselves. It's that anonymity that restaurant owners don't like.

"Why don't you want to be tracked?" asked Shirin Chalabiani, part owner of Bolt Fresh Bar. "Don't you want that person to come back to you and maybe ask you questions and get to know why you got food poisoning and what did you eat or like more details?"

Chalabiani said diner complaints can give a restaurant a bad name, often for no reason.

Toronto Public Health estimates that one-in-six Torontonians suffer from food poisoning every year, but not all of them are reporting it. GastroBusters, they say, is another tool to aid in that.

"We need to know about all cases so that we can identify if there's clusters or outbreaks and then do something to prevent them," said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, director of communicable disease control at the health agency.

Restaurant organizations warn about false claims, excess cost

Two experts who work in the restaurant field say the program should be done away with because it's redundant.

"GastroBusters is unnecessary cost to taxpayers," says Donna Dooher, the president of Restaurants Canada, an association representing 30,000 restaurants and food service businesses across the country.

Dooher said the city's restaurant sanitary rating system, DineSafe, is enough to safeguard diners against food poisoning.

James Rilett, vice president of the Ontario unit of Restaurants Canada, argued that food poising incidents are already tracked.

"If a doctor has a legitimate case of food born illness, they open an investigation they call Toronto Health and it's tracked," said Rilett. "I don't see how anonymity helps that system at all."

He adds a program like this opens the door to false claims.

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie