Did you wash your hands? | CookingDistrict.com

Did you wash your hands?

Many of us scoff at those who pay $100+ per tasting menu – it’s an entire day’s pay for many cooks. Instead, we proudly shadow Anthony Bourdain in search of our own treasures - the cheapest and even more delectable fare that’s only tucked away in the darkest corners of the city.

We all have them: our favorite hole-in-the-walls, those we’d trek fifty miles to get to because this is where the Vietnamese live and only this place makes the best pho. And it’s that chase, that adventure, for the very best banh mi, chimichurris, papusas, and pizza that’s out there. And even better, it’s dirt-cheap! But maybe that’s the problem – it’s just too cheap! Blasphemy, right? Well just be careful because you could one day find yourself bed-ridden, stricken with diarrhea and vomiting, sucked bone dry because you can’t keep anything in, and faint with a 102 degree fever.

Fact #1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that roughly 76 million cases of food borne illnesses occurs in the US yearly.

Fact #2 In total there are an estimated 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to food borne illnesses.

From how food is stored, to the temperature food reaches when cooked, to an employee not washing their hands between tasks, especially after using the bathroom, are factors in the development of food borne illnesses says an environmental health inspector in California. This health inspector told me the most common violations among restaurant kitchens:

1) No soap or paper towels in the wall mounted dispensers at the hand wash sink.

2) Lack of proper chemical concentration in the sanitize buckets (for wiping cloths).

3) Lack of sanitizer concentration rinse in the three-compartment water wash sink.

But since we’re also consumers of the restaurant industry, and probably don’t want to be health inspectors as well, she also gave me some crucial signs to look for when we find ourselves on the ‘other’ side, enjoying the day off with the rest of the world.
Things to look at:

1) Bathrooms – how clean are they? Are there proper soap and paper towel dispensers? A bathroom can tell a lot about a restaurant….

2) Cooks and chef (if it’s an open kitchen) – are they sweating while they work? How is their hair kept? Look at their aprons – how clean are they?

3) Silverware – how clean is it?

4) Cockroaches – If you live in a densely populated city such as NYC, then cockroaches are inevitable. But cockroaches are nocturnal, which means that if you’re having breakfast or lunch and see a cockroach scurry across a windowsill, that’s a BIG problem. Get up and leave - they probably have an infestation of some sort.

And the #1 activity my health-inspector-friend can’t emphasize enough when teaching a class for restaurants employees – WASH YOUR HANDS, with soap of course, and frequently: after you change tasks, when you leave the line and come back – wash your hands.

Then I asked a chef (corporate executive chef for the Michael Mina Restaurants) about his biggest kitchen sanitary pet peeve: cooks who touch their faces and then touch the food.

A bit of a conundrum, isn’t it, being both industry professionals and restaurant diners ourselves? As restaurant employees we try our best, but we know we're guilty. Health inspectors are the bane of our existence and when they come we scurry to clean up our act, throwing out dirty towels, putting away proteins, and hiding the sous-vide bags.

It’s hard to be so conscious on the line. As restaurant workers we forget the immense responsibility we have of feeding hundreds of people everyday. It’s axiomatic that delicious food is toxin-free food. As cooks we need to have the integrity our jobs demand and the common sense to handle food correctly -- safely. It’s our job, really. And it’s an important, if not the most important, aspect about the food service industry.


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