Owner involved in mass poisoning in Markham says restaurant also victim

·3 min read

It has been more than two weeks since a mass food poisoning at Delight Restaurant & BBQ in Markham led to the admission of 12 people to hospital. York Region Public Health has ruled out deliberate poisoning and the restaurant resumed business two days later; however, reopening the doors has not brought back the lost customers.

The Chinese Cuisine and Hospitality Association of Canada (CCHAC) held a news conference with Yongkang Liu, owner of Delight restaurant, on Sept. 8, to clarify the incident to the public.

“Our restaurant is also a victim of this poisoning incident,” Liu said.

According to him, the dish that made 12 people ill was made with a condiment common in Asia. “We went to the supermarket that day to buy kaempferia galanga powder, but instead we got aconitum carmichaelii powder because the two products were mislabeled.”

In other words, although the Chinese characters on the package of the item Liu bought was kaempferia galanga powder, the actual code of the product was aconitum carmichaelii powder.

Danny Li, lead instructor of traditional Chinese medicine at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, confirmed that aconitum carmichaelii is a traditional Chinese herb, but it might lead to serious poisoning if handled inappropriately.

He pointed out that the main function of aconitum carmichaelii is to relieve pain, but because of the various alkaloids contained in this plant, it is very toxic.

“It cannot be taken directly; in most cases, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use it for external use instead of internal use,” Li said, suggesting that ordinary consumers should not use it without doctor’s advice.

While Liu regretted for the consequences of the multiple poisonings, he stressed that this was not his intention.

Catherine Hou, president of CCHAC, noted that even before the official conclusion from York Region Public Health, there were many accusations without further investigation on social media suggesting that it was “man-made poisoning,” and these negative impacts have made the loss of two-thirds of the customers of the small business after its reopening.

Markham city councillor Alan Ho also noticed the online attack on Delight restaurant. He encouraged residents to do the fact-checking themselves and not be easily fooled by some sensationalist remarks that would hurt a small business that has a foothold and serves the local area.

Liu is a Cantonese chef with more than 10 years of cooking experience. In November 2021, with love for dining and vision of a better life, he took over and renovate Delight restaurant with his savings of more than half million dollars over the years, and officially opened in May 2022. However, this incident was not what he had anticipated.

As a regular customer of the restaurant, councillor Amanda Collucci felt saddened to see the restaurant, which used to have queues in the afternoon, become empty. The quality of food and service are very good and the prices are extremely reasonable, she said, and people shouldn't stop supporting local businesses because of a single accident.

Hou acknowledged that the poisoning incident was not only harmful to Delight restaurant, but also caused many Chinese restaurants to be questioned by customers for offering similar dishes, resulting in a dramatic drop in orders. The post-pandemic restart has been plagued, and she doesn't want the Chinese restaurant industry to take another hit from an incident that shouldn't have happened.

On behalf of CCHAC, representing more than 1,000 Chinese restaurant owners, Hou called on all operators in the food supply chain to strictly control everything from packaging, labelling, distributing, stocking and purchasing by well-trained professionals.

“Everyone in the industry should take responsibility to restore and maintain the reputation of the Chinese restaurant industry by preventing such incidents from happening again,” she said.

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun