A restaurant kitchen is a dangerous place. Lapses in proper food handling procedures can lead to a smorgasbord of more than 250 food-borne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A restaurant kitchen is a dangerous place.
Lapses in proper food handling procedures can lead to a smorgasbord of more than 250 food-borne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms of food poisoning can show up within hours or may take weeks to surface.
“There are three ways food can be contaminated — biologically, chemically or physically,” said Gerald Voycheck, who teaches food safety courses at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Ill.
Leave raw meat on the kitchen counter for several hours and the spoilage will be biological. Hit it with a squirt of bleach while cleaning the sink and it will be chemically tainted. Break a glass nearby and the shattering shards will contaminate it physically.
Although rare, all can happen in a busy restaurant kitchen. Some common food-borne illnesses:
- Salmonellosis. Symptoms usually show up 12 to 36 hours after eating and include abdominal cramps, headache, nausea, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. The infection generally lasts one to two days and is caused by improperly cooked or cooled foods and cross contamination. Culprits include poultry and poultry salads, meat, fish, milk, eggs, raw sprouts, and sliced melons, tomatoes and other produce.
- Campylobacteriosis. Symptoms surface in one to 10 days after infection and include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache and muscle pain. The illness lasts seven to 10 days and is caused by ingesting unpasteurized milk and dairy products, undercooked poultry and food contaminated by nonchlorinated or fecal-contaminated water.
- Norovirus gastroenteritis. Implicated in cruise ship outbreaks, the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and mild fever surface in one to two days. The illness lasts one to three days and is caused by contamination from feces-contaminated water. Culprits include undercooked shellfish, raw fruits and vegetables and salads.
- Escherichia coli infection. Symptoms are diarrhea, severe abdominal cramps and pain, vomiting and possible kidney failure; they surface in two to eight days. An E. coli-induced illness lasts two to eight days and is caused by eating food contaminated by human or animal feces. Offenders include raw and undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk and apple cider, roast beef, lettuce, nonchlorinated water and raw sprouts.
“If you start to feel sick, seek medical help, especially if you’re in a high-risk group,” Voycheck said.
The high-risk population includes babies and preschoolers, older people, pregnant women, people taking certain medications, and those with serious diseases or weakened immune systems.
Next, report the incident to your Department of Public Health.
Each complaint triggers an investigation. If the public health department receives two or more similar complaints of possible food-borne illness stemming from the same restaurant, it’s considered an outbreak and a more extensive investigation — which may include locking the restaurant doors — begins.
“Sometimes problems might be from nothing the restaurant did. They could simply be ordered to get rid of the problem food,” said Jessica Thoron, Sangamon County’s food program supervisor and an instructor of food-safety courses offered by the county.
She noted recent nationwide recalls of spinach and beef, which were contaminated before they were shipped to food-service establishments.
Diners can take precautions when it comes to restaurant dining.
- Assess the exterior of the building. If the trash bin is overflowing, the parking lot is full of litter and the windows are dirty, chances are the kitchen also might be hygienically challenged.
- Watch the buffet tables. New food shouldn’t be piled onto food that has been sitting out. A full, fresh pan of food should replace the pan that is getting empty.
- Check out the bathrooms. No soap or paper towels can hint at how seriously the management is about cleanliness.
- Look at conditions in the “front of the house.” Are the tables cleared? Do employees look clean? Is the floor swept?
“If the side of the restaurant you see doesn’t look good,” said Voycheck, “the side you don’t see won’t be much better.”
Kathryn Rem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.