Toronto Council warns of weather risks for food industry

Published: July 31, 2018



Extreme weather events can affect businesses of all sizes and from all sectors, but some are at more risk than others. For example, the Toronto City Council is warning those in the food industry, including restaurants, producers, and distributers are more at risk than other industries.

As such, insurers should tell their clients in the food industry to better prepare for severe weather situations.

“Restaurants do not prioritize purchasing backup generators, or flood or business interruption insurance,” the Toronto City Council report suggests. “In addition, for restaurants that rent, it is often the building owner who would be responsible for purchasing and installing backup generators and purchasing flood insurance.”

The report, titled Resilient Food Systems, Resilient Cities:  A High-Level Vulnerability Assessment of Toronto’s Food System – was part of a memo written by Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.

Last week, the council ended a three-day meeting with a vote to ask staff “to develop community food resilience action plans for vulnerable neighbourhoods with critical food access issues.”

Dr. de Villa points out more frequent and severe weather events will occur in Toronto in the coming decades because of climate change. The resilient food systems report – authored by Kimberly Zeuli, Austin Nijhuis and Zachary Gerson-Nieder – was prepared for Toronto Public Health (TPH) by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and Meister Consultants Group.

“Restaurants may not have the financial resources or insurance to prepare for an extreme weather event,” the authors said. Among the most vulnerable locations is the 40-acre Ontario Food Terminal, a Toronto-based facility located near the mouth of the Humber River. The food terminal is the third largest of its kind in North America and is operated by Ontario’s department of agriculture, food and rural affairs.

Because of its position on the shores of Lake Ontario, the food terminal is “vulnerable to riverine flooding from extreme rainfalls,” according to the report. Like many sites in the food industry, there is no backup power system at the Ontario Food Terminal, which is served by a single electrical transformer.

“The Ontario Food Terminal poses the greatest single point of fresh fruit, vegetables and produce distribution vulnerability for the city because of the concentration of wholesalers in a single location and its relative importance to the city’s smaller food retailers and restaurants,” the authors wrote.

“This market also plays a significant role in fresh produce distribution across Canada. If the Food Terminal was closed or had limited operations for an extended period, the small businesses would have difficulty finding alternative sources of fresh produce and the price of produce would increase for all food businesses.”