G20 Food Safety for Thought

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G20 Food Safety for Thought

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Illustration by Matt Daley/Torontoist.


When it comes to G20 security, Canada’s federal government has spared no expense. To secure the safety of the world’s leaders, our government has erected a five and a half million dollar fence, amassed a small army of as many as ten thousand police officers, and reportedly, established a large detention facility for protesters at the Toronto Film Studios.
The VIPs seem well-protected against potential violence, but what about bad food? Surely, they must have some sort defense against undercooked meat?
Well, to ensure the safety of President Obama’s pizza, the government is reportedly spending $1.2 million on food safety at the G8 and G20 summits. To find out more about food safety at the G20, we talked to Béatrice Fénelon, a spokesperson for Summit Management Office, the organization in charge of this shindig.


Like almost every other aspect of the G20, the food is an issue of national security. Unfortunately, we don’t know what Stephen Harper and his guests will be eating, but it will be mostly local, and it will all be provided by suppliers that have been thoroughly inspected by federal agencies.
Ensuring food safety at an event like the G20 is an enormous undertaking. More than a dozen organizations including Toronto Public Health, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture—all under the guidance of Health Canada—will be present and active at the summit. To protect the “integrity” of the summit, as well as “the security and privacy” of those in attendance, Fénelon couldn’t tell us the number of government employees involved, but at the cost of more than a million dollars, it’s probably a lot.
“Food surveillance services are an integral part of the health contingency plans,” Fénelon told Torontoist. “They are designed to ensure that the events will run smoothly, without disruptions or delays caused by food contamination or food-borne illness…[and] to ensure that the [leaders] attending will return to their respective countries in good health.”
According to Fénelon, Health Canada, with assistance from Toronto Public Health, will inspect all of the food preparation facilities before the weekend—if they haven’t already—and health officers will be on-site twenty-four hours a day at the Convention Centre and “food preparation areas” to ensure that nothing gets contaminated. So, if British Prime Minister David Cameron wants a late-night snack, officers will be there in the kitchen to guarantee that it’s okay to eat.
Health officials will also be using electronic thermometers to take internal temperatures of food to ensure that it is thoroughly cooked and that standing foods are being sufficiently heated or cooled. At the same time, they’ll be taking samples, so they have something to examine later if any food-related illnesses crop up. (Precise details about the summit’s health contingency plans are, once again, state secrets.)
Finally, to complicate things further, delegations are allowed to bring in their own food specialists, adding yet another layer of inspectors to an already crowded kitchen.
While the cost, preparations, and around-the-clock on-site presence of health officers may seem like overkill, it might just be worth it—we probably don’t want to go down in history as the country that knocked off the G20 leaders with a batch of bad bison burgers.

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