One dog, hold the flu

Sanitizer not always included

Don’t expect food cart vendors across the city to provide hand sanitizer when you have a hankering for some street meat.

Public health officials may be warning residents to use hand sanitizer regularly to avoid the transmission of the H1N1 virus, but you must bring your own when visiting one of the hundreds of hot dog and sausage vendors across the city.

“They are not obliged to provide sanitizer to the public,” says Jim Chen, spokesperson for Toronto Public Health. “The due diligence is on the customer’s side.”

Though there’s no requirements to provide extra hygiene protection during the flu season, the Town Crier took to the streets to check out how some vendors and found several are taking it upon themselves to help out.

Out of seven carts visited during the first week of November, four had hand sanitizer available for customers. Two had hand sanitizer for their own use. A vendor outside Union Station assured the Town Crier that they had hand sanitizer, but curiously refused to show it.

Monica’s cart, near Nathan Philips Square, was armed with five bottles of hand sanitizer and two dispensers of alcohol tissues. She says they began offering the amenity two years ago.

“The customer’s health is very important, they touch money, street posts, the railings, everything, so we have sanitizer,” Monica said, adding hand sanitizer visible on the cart draws in customers.

Marianne Moroney, spokesperson for The Street Food Vendors Association of Toronto, says carts meet stringent health regulations and go beyond.

“Our members have been making hand sanitizer available to their customers for several years now,” she said.

And while customers seem to appreciate the gesture, a lack of soap won’t stop them from chowing down on the street.

“I guess with the flu going around everyone is being more careful, but I think you’re just as likely to get it from a light switch or someone coughing on the subway than from eating a hot dog with dirty hands,” said customer Ted Zalecky, at a stand near Union Station.

Others take responsibility for their own protection.

“I usually carry my own (sanitizer), but I wash my hands a lot so I’m not really worried,” said Sarah Hollinger, also outside Union Station. “I think it would be good if they carried hand sanitizer for people who do work like construction and stuff and just want a quick lunch and don’t have a place to wash.”

Chen says that the practice of serving hot dogs and sausages on napkins should be enough to prevent the customer from exposure to pathogens on their hands — assuming they do not touch their food, Chen said. But the likelihood of catching H1N1 from a easting at a street food cart is unlikely, he stressed.

“If a (customer) has dirty hands it is really a personal choice,” he said. “Especially now with H1N1 we are really reminding people to wash their hands regularly and use hand sanitizer whenever possible.”

About this article:

By: Mike Constable
Posted: Nov 17 2009 10:38 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto