A visitor from the U.S. got more than they asked for at a Toronto hotel restaurant when they ordered a cheeseburger on Monday night that was served with a waiver on the side.
“I was flabbergasted,” the visitor said in a post to Reddit that has since gone viral on the platform’s Toronto page and garnered more than 500 comments.
The visitor, who asked to be identified by their username Reit007, ordered the burger to be cooked medium and told CTV News Toronto they had already started eating when the server handed them a waiver.
“I already had my first bite but stopped eating and did not sign the waiver. I was shocked to be honest with you,” they said in an interview.
Reit007 said the server explained that because the kitchen at the Hilton Toronto Airport Hotel & Suites always cooks their burgers well-done, they should sign the waiver first.
According to the waiver, the “guest hereby waives and releases any rights, actions or claims against Hilton Toronto Airport Hotel & Suites…for any liabilities and damages, including any food-borne illnesses and death arising out of or in connection with the guest’s use of its own food or consumption of products not provided by Hilton Toronto Airport.”
“I lost my appetite,” Reit007 told CTV News Toronto. “Simply because I felt they did not have confidence in food they are offering.”
While the hotel chain doesn’t typically hand these waivers out, a Hilton spokesperson told CTV News Toronto that the chain adheres to all of Ontario’s food safety laws.
“When guests request a cooking temperature for meat that is below the minimum required, our hotel provides a waiver as an additional food safety measure with language consistent with what you might see printed at the bottom of restaurant menus,” a statement read.
According to the province’s food safety guide, ground beef should be cooked to 71 C or 160 F to “ensure adequate cooking of the meats and reduce the chance of bacterial survival.”
WHY THE WAIVER?
Although the sight of a waiver beside a meal came as a shock to the hundreds of comments following Reit007’s post, one food safety professor says the form is not a terrible idea.
“I think it’s forward thinking by the restaurant because a lot of restaurants will just give you what you want,” Keith Warriner told CTV News Toronto in an interview. “[The waiver] is a protection mechanism, they’re saying, ‘yeah, this beef potentially could have E. coli in it.’”
Warriner, who worked as a chef in the U.K. before becoming a professor of food science at the University of Guelph, said E. coli 0157 is much more rare these days, with a prevalence of roughly 0.01 per cent.
But back in the ‘90s, that number was closer to two per cent.
“And the reason why I go back to the ‘90s is because there was a famous E. coli outbreak associated with Jack in the box,” he said referring to the 1993 incident that left four people dead and 732 infected across four states in the U.S., forever changing the way meat is processed south of the border.
“So obviously with all these outbreaks in the US, which is very litigation trigger happy, if you make somebody ill, you’re gonna pay for it.”
Warriner said Canada isn’t as litigious as the United States, but there are instances in this country where meat producers have had to pay up due to contaminated products, most notably the $27-million Maple Leaf settlement following the Listeria-linked deaths of least 20 people in 2008.
In this case, Warriner said he understands why the form may have been issued, albeit a rare practice in this county.
“In Canada, I don’t think it would have stood up [in court], but with the waiver form, that gives a degree of protection,” he said.
If you do contract E. coli after eating contaminated ground beef, Warriner explained the experience is “horrendous.”
“If you’re lucky, you might just get gastroenteritis and nothing else. But it could lead on to what we call hemolytic uremic syndrome, which produces a sugar-like toxin and causes kidney failure. And when you get kidney failure, can you imagine all this fluid accumulates in your body and it’s got nowhere to go?”
Asked if diners who prefer an undercooked burger should think twice before their next order, Warriner said it’s better to be safe — and have it fully cooked — than sorry.
“It’s just not worth the risk,” he said.