Saturday, October 29, 2011

Food Safety Roulette

Two recent events have caused my thoughts to turn to food safery and the absence of effective protections in most dining service operations:
  • The recent, multi-state cantelope-listeria outbreak that caused several hundred illnesses and some deaths.

  • A survey of restaurant managers and food handlers that found many didn't know basisc precautions to keep food safe for consumption, like where to store raw meat in a refrigerator or why hambrugers should be cooked thoroughly. (You can see the article about this survey at , "Food Handlers Flunk Food Safety Quiz")
The contaminated cantelopes traced back to a single, very large, farm, where processing practices were lax. That was the cause, but isn't an excuse for the thousands of food handlers (in restaurants, campus and corporate kitichens and homes) who didn't take a normal, simple and quite routine precaution -- washing all fresh fruits and vegetables. In the case of a rough-skin fruit like cantelope, this means scrubbing with a brush to get into all those little crevices. This might have prevented many of the illnesses that resulted from this outbreak.

You need to cut open a melon in order to eat it, whether you're eating a wedge or cutting it into cubes. When your knife cuts through the contaminated skin, it brings the microbes that were on the skin into the flesh. If the same knife is used for other tasks without being sanitized, it becomes a miniature Typhoid Mary, spreading the contamination to everything it touches.

So, why aren't this and the many other food safety prepcautions taken? They should be as automatic as a chef garnishing each plate he/she sends out of the kitchen, but it's not.

The fact is, food safety is ignored routinely, without consequence. If the penalty for failing to take these precautions were as sure and certain as the penalty for sticking a finger in a live light socket, there would be no problem with compliance.

What does your dining service staff know about food safety? We've developed a 10-question, multiple choice quiz that you can use to find the answer. For a copy, please e-mail me at and I'll forward it to you (with an answer sheet).