Some food inspectors have discovered a lot of filthy conditions in restaurants recently, and the findings are raising questions about whether eating out is really as safe as it seems.
In the image above, I would not eat the dish being prepared by that chef if I knew that he was handling the food without wearing protective gloves …
I can tell you that the idea of getting food poisoning is not very appealing to me and I have had a couple of friends hospitalized from it lately — all because they ate something at a fast food restaurant that was unsafely stored or badly prepared.
I still do not trust restaurant cooks and servers and waiters and waitresses to properly wash their hands after using the bathrooms and there is no way for customers to watch them and make sure they do. I understand that it is illegal to install security cameras in bathrooms so who is to know when some lazy-assed jerk forgets or simply refuses to follow the safety rules when working with food that other people will consume?
While restaurants are required to post inspection stickers near their front door, it doesn’t mean all of them are clean, according to Lori Freeman, chief executive officer for the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Some of the dirty conditions that have been uncovered in recent years include rodent feces, sewage backing up on a kitchen floor, and expired food. These violations have caused many people to lose their faith in restaurants and have led to a number of restaurant closures across the country.
Where I live, one hugely-popular family-style buffet restaurant was actually forced to shut down forever after food inspectors discovered (More than once) that they had a habit of storing their uncooked hamburger patties outside the restaurant, on racks sitting very close to the restaurant waste disposal dumpster. This made the local news.
Roaches and unsanitary food-contact surfaces have been a common concern for a number of South Florida restaurants, but a number of other issues are also being found at restaurants throughout the state. In fact, last week, a Papa John’s restaurant in Miami-Dade County was shut down because of roaches and clean utensils or equipment being stored in a dirty container.
When I was a younger man, I worked in a fast food hamburger joint where rats would scamper across the kitchen floor at the busiest time of the day and where the long-haired “Old Timer” grill cook never seemed to wash her hands or to wear a hair net and actually smoked cigarettes while flipping the burgers.
Dirty mugs and glasses have also been a problem in some restaurants, with some inspectors saying that people should be mindful of where they put their mugs and glasses when they set them down on a table or plate. The reason for this is that if your hands are dirty and you put your mug down on a dish or on a counter, then you’re likely to transfer bacteria from your hands onto the glass.
Another thing about seating arrangements at restaurants: I personally always wipe off my table when eating in a restaurant. I carry sanitary wipes especially for the purpose. I also wipe off the utensils because it is hard to imagine what kind of crud they might have been washed in before arriving at your table or how long it was before they got wiped dry, or if they just sat out and dried on their own — or how dirty the rag they got wiped with was — I worked in one of these places once and I am here to tell you that many of them will cut corners wherever they can get away with it.
Dirty plates, utensils, mugs, glasses and all that kind of stuff can contaminate the food that you’re eating, making it more likely to make you sick. There are a number of ways to avoid this, but one is to make sure your mugs and glasses are cleaned before you use them. Like I said, I carry my own methods of doing this whenever I go out. I get a lot of stares from other patrons but it is my health I am protecting and I don’t give a shit what onlookers might think.
In addition, be aware that some of the most dangerous violations can come from the way food is held and kept cold. For example, if the temperature of chicken salad is below 60 degrees, this could cause it to grow bacteria and make you sick.
My friend, Jim and I, got a bad case of some kind of food poisoning after eating a chicken casserole at a church banquet. This tantalizing-looking casserole had been sitting in a heated room, on a long table, for God only knows how long before we ate some of it … I should have known when I noticed that the food was not barely like warm that it had been there some hours before we dug into it.
If your meal isn’t cooked properly, it can also lead to problems. This is why some restaurants have been shut down for this, and it’s important to make sure your food is cooked in a clean environment, says Kristin Clay, director of the Virginia Department of Health. Of course, you can never tell the cleanliness of a kitchen restaurant because you are generally not allowed to enter them — and even if the dining area of the establishment looks sterile as a hospital operating room, you have no idea of what that kitchen looks like.
Other common problems with restaurants include improperly cleaned dishes, ice machines and fridges. These can all be a sign of a problem in the restaurant and should be taken care of immediately, but again, the patrons are going to be clueless as to the sanitization of these things.
It pays, in my opinion, to do some research before going out to eat these days. I always look up eating places on a site where customer reviews of the establishments can be found and I have found most of these reviews to be fairly accurate.
Some of these problems can be solved by simply making sure all staff have proper training, But others may require more drastic measures, like having a worker fired or the business closed.
It is also vital to ensure that the restaurant is a licensed establishment. This means that the business is inspected regularly by a qualified professional and has been checked for safety and cleanliness. This brings me to another item for a short discussion — food trucks and food concession stands at fairs, carnivals and other such places. I have gotten sick a number of times after eating a sandwich from a food truck. I have to be awfully damned hungry before I take the chance with them these days.
While some of the most serious violations can seem scary, the good news is that a number of these restaurants have been removed from the list after receiving a failing rating during an inspection. In the end, most of them will have their inspections corrected and can return to serving customers once the problems are fixed.
But in the end, it is the customer’s responsibility to check things out, to ask others who have eaten in such places, and to do a little snooping wherever possible .. especially in the bathrooms. I have found, in my own experience, that the condition of the restaurant bathroom is a good indication about the cleanliness of the rest of the place.