A "flabbergasted" American visitor to Toronto received more than 500 replies on Reddit when he shared that a Hilton hotel restaurant asked him to sign a waiver when he ordered a hamburger medium done.
"I ordered my burger medium and the waiter took it with no question or comment," user Reit007 wrote in a post titled "Toronto burger came with a release form."
"She brought it and it looked great! When I had my first bite she brought me a release form and said we always make our burgers well done, but since you wanted it medium ... you should sign this."
The poster explained that they ordered their burger medium from the Hilton Toronto Airport hotel. The server returned with a release form as the customer was starting their meal. They were told by the server that they needed to sign the form based on their special request, since the restaurant only makes burgers well done. The form would clear the hotel restaurant against any claims for damages related to to any food-borne illnesses arising from the medium-cooked burger.
The poster was left wondering if this was a common practice in Canada, and why the server didn’t mention anything beforehand.
"I tried to be nice so I paid and left, but could not eat the burger," they wrote. "How can you sign a form like his and still eat it?"
While the strange occurrence is rare in Canada, one expert says the restaurant is just trying be clear that the onus of any unsafe cooking practices doesn't fall on them.
Expert says: Not common, 'but I understand why' restaurant would do this
Glenford Jameson is a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in food matters.
He explains it’s common in certain places in the U.S. to identify food hazards directly on the menu to communicate possible dangers related to eating certain seafood, undercooked meat or allergens. In Canada, this practice doesn’t exist in the same way.
“This idea of a waiver is not something we see often in Canada,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “I can understand why they might want to do it, but it’s not common practice.”
Jameson says the Hilton where the Redditor dined likely has instructions to cook their burgers to a certain degree, so they rely on the waiver to memorialize the request of the diner, instead of relying on the server’s word.
“What this restaurant is choosing to do is to say ‘We don’t think it’s safe to eat this way ... so we want that person to identify for us that they had asked us to make it in an unsafe way.’”
He adds that while restaurants are always dealing with a level of risk when serving food, food-borne illness isn’t something that can reasonably be resolved by a lawsuit.
“It’s difficult for one person to identify what trigger made them sick,” he says. “In Canada, dealing with damages is the primary obstacle to suing over food-borne illness.”
Health care is covered in Canada, and many employers offer sick days, which minimizes any possible damages as a result of food poisoning.
What are the rules for cooking ground meat in Canada
According to the food safety guide for Ontario the temperature requirement for ground meat to reduce the chance of bacterial survival is 71ºC (160ºF) for at least 15 seconds.
“When meat is ground up, any bacteria on the surface are mixed through the meat,” the guide states. “To make sure all bacteria are killed, the meat must be cooked all the way through.”
Health Canada's guidelines for cooking and handling raw ground meat and poultry are the same.
There are rules for serving food
In an email statement to Yahoo Canada, a representative from Toronto Public Health says that places serving food must ensure that all food is processed in a manner that is safe to eat.
“Food premises that use alternate cooking methods or processes (i.e., serve burgers cooked to different internal temperatures) are required to demonstrate how their processes ensure that the food is safe for consumption,” the statement reads.
It adds that establishments may be required to provide a food safety plan for the specific food item, along with a documented process from an approved agency like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It may also require laboratory testing results to demonstrate that their food handling practices ensure that the food is safe.
In an emailed statement, a hotel spokesperson said the waiver is used as an additional food safety measure, but it is not a standard practice for Hilton properties.
Canada reacts: 'Shocked' not-well-done burger was an option
Many in the over 500 comments were surprised to learn about the waiver. Others expressed shock the poster was allowed to order a medium burger at all.
"Burgers are generally cooked to well-done because ground beef has a generally higher chance of contamination," wrote amontpetit. "I’ve never seen a restaurant actually have a waiver, and the waiter definitely should have mentioned it before leaving with your order."