Foodborne Illness & You"/>
I always bitch when I have to renew my food handler's permit. Washington state requires all food service workers to take a food safety class every two to three years to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. But once in the class, the importance of such a concern really hits home. It's the state's way of scaring everybody straight, and it's necessary.
According to the Center for Disease Control, each year 76 million Americans get sick from the food they eat. 325,000 of those who get sick are hospitalized and nearly 5,000 people die. Die. It's a big deal. In Washington state, the number one cause of foodborne illness is...
...the Norovirus, which causes a major case of gastroenteritis in its victims. We're not talking one night of unswallowing and the like; Norovirus usually leaves you on the floor of the bathroom in the fetal position from cramping and various forms of expelling all that which is in your system. The perfect storm environment for this virus involves lots of people in closed quarters; it's why they call cruise ships floating petri dishes Hospitals, daycare, and schools top the list of other top breeding grounds. The literature in class refers to this process as the fecal-oral route of transmission, or as our teacher stated yesterday, "Somebody's toilet paper failure gets into someone else's mouth." Ew.
Exactly. That's why Washington state has a double hand washing rule; all food service employees must wash their hands in the restroom before returning to work, then again at a hand washing station within the restaurant before returning to their station.
If you want to cut down on your risk of getting sick this holiday season, forget about your medium rare steak. The front of house is more of a threat to your health than the kitchen. I recommend these simple steps:
Ditch the fruit: Waiters grab dirty glassware, money and who knows what else all night long. Do you want them touching the lime that goes in your G&T? I forgo the garnishes in cocktails unless I can see that the service staff uses appropriate picks or tongs to add them to my drink.
Cut carbs: The waiter usually prepares bread and butter for the table; so watch and see if appropriate tongs, gloves or a covering towel come into play before accepting it. Imagine bare hand contact with bread or butter after clearing a table of four with a green snot leaking, drooling baby.
Knuckle all dining props: I never let the pads of my fingers touch anything another guest has touched or any communal use item that's been on the table before I got there--menus, ketchup, salt, sugar shaker. A potential bacteria breading ground, one and all. People touch these things in the middle of their meal, like grabbing more ketchup for fries, after fingers have been in their mouths and touched food.