In order to track food poisoning cases that might otherwise never get reported, Toronto Public Health has set up an anonymous, voluntary and confidential website called GastroBusters. Health officials said many Canadians with foodborne illnesses just stay home and don’t report it to anyone, making it harder to get an accurate picture of the problem. “In a report we did five or six years ago, we found that less than 0.5 percent of food poisoning is reported to public health,” said Toronto Board of Health Chair Joe Mihevc. “That’s not really good. Because if it is reported, we can catch the next wave.” He said the department is trying to get a better handle on those cases that occur after people eat in restaurants, at picnics, or at backyard barbecues. “So we’re doing a kind of promotional campaign to encourage you that if you’re at your favorite brother-in-law’s, and he gives you a steak that he wasn’t too sure about and you get sick, that we find out about it,” Mihevc said. The Gastrobusters site asks people whether they have any symptoms of foodborne illness (nausea, vomiting or diarrhea), where they live, age, gender, date and time their symptoms started, if they still have symptoms, whether they sought medical attention and whether they ate at any large events (festivals, celebrations, sporting events, etc.). Additional questions ask what restaurant they may have eaten at, whether other people in their party also got sick, and what food item they think may have caused the problem. Although contact information is not required, those who do submit it are contacted by health officials for followup. Mihevc said that a recent board of health report indicated that foodborne illness costs the Canadian health care system and the economy $500 million per year.
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