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Alberta health officials shut down rogue food-sharing operation

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 23:25
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Alberta Health Services has issued a cease and desist order to a food-sharing company in Edmonton that was flouting Canadian food safety regulations by matching home cooks with customers through an online system.

The co-founder of Scarf said that letting customers check in online with 30 vetted home cooks, order, and pre-pay for a meal to pick up offered safer food and more accountability than eating in the typical restaurant.

“If somebody reports getting sick, we can check in with every other person who’s had the same meal,” Kian Parseyan said.

However, provincial health officials, who denied Parseyan and his partner an operating permit this past summer, said Scarf was putting customers at risk.

Health regulations in Alberta require a food permit and a commercial kitchen for anyone who wants to sell food to the public.

“The operator’s actions are unfortunate, and have put AHS in a position of concern, when it comes to protecting public,” according to a statement from agency spokeswoman Shannon Evans.

Alberta Health Services issued a warning to the company in October, but Scarf had continued to operate since launching the meal-ordering service on Sept. 1.

Parseyan said he ran background checks on each cook who wanted to participate, tested them on food safety rules, had their kitchens randomly inspected every three months, and took photos of the home kitchens for posting profiles on the website.

While acknowledging that what he was doing was “technically illegal,” Parseyan said that his online service guaranteed more regarding food safety than Alberta Health Services.

The province doesn’t require cooks who operate bed and breakfast operations to install commercial kitchens if they only serve a morning meal. And those who cook food at home that they plan to donate are also exempt from that requirement.

“I have no idea how breakfast food is any safer, or how by not charging people money you’re all of a sudden cooking safer,” Parseyan said. “Clearly, these laws are currently written to keep people out — not based in science or logic.”

Alberta Health Services can sue or fine those who operate, or work for, unapproved food business, but provincial officials have not indicated whether they plan to do so.

“Our efforts also help protect the owners and employees of food establishments,” the agency said in a statement. “Anyone who is operating or working for an unapproved business without a permit is taking a substantial risk.”

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