The Perils of Eating Out
All those years of cooking in the food industry exposed me to the joys of cooking for people who are willing to pay to be served good food. "Good food" opinion can be relative most times, just like beauty can be subjective. What I found in most cases, when people state "it's good for me," when you asked them how the food was, my experience told me, watch out. Avoiding generalities or profiling people on their culinary taste can be harsh. Hundreds of food businesses serve hundreds of taste buds according to each own proclivities. The motto, "to each its own," is true.
When eating out, a customer is at the hands of fate. The food served maybe average, good or superb. A customer's general limited or broad taste buds' experience will manifest the mood at the table. It may be an amazing meal replete with wow presentations, ultimate cuisine saveur, excellent waitstaff or, on a given day, all the factors involving eating out just failed to score, and one is left (or more are ill) with stomach pangs ranging from diarrhea to vomiting/diarrhea or worse.
Hazards abound on the service side of the food industry. We hear about food poisonings and e-coli occurrences all the time. The need to investigate these unfortunate events is the only way to confirm the culprit. The process of eliminating what is deemed the probable suspect takes time, resources and monies. Human error is the main reason without a doubt.
It is without exception, anywhere you go out to eat, be it the most expensive restaurant or your regular fast food joint that food poisonings will occur. It is the food handling. I worked at prestigious hotels, corporate and private lodgings and resorts down to small restaurants from coast to coast, and have known first hand the habits of new cooks whether they have been to a culinary school or not, old timers whether they had been to a culinary school or not, are almost always consistently careless. Just don't care attitude runs rampant. Just get the food out is always the goal which should be the goal. But the food that comes to you has a history. The lack of proper cross-contamination education, poor sanitation training or plain nonchalance is disturbing. The ability to break gross personal hygiene habits is a monumental defeat. The one preparing your food would have done some sneezing....yes on your food. Some places, if the customer is rude, a spit is additional garnish. A cook would have touched their nose, their beard, their mustache, their hair and resume chopping. Another scenario would be blowing the nose with a paper towel or so, and resume cooking duties. Trips to the bathroom? Despite the posted signs, a lot of food service workers ignore them. Washing hands are too time consuming. Need to get back in the kitchen. Smokers? It is an understatement if they consistently follow the " wash your hands thoroughly" rule every time they would take off for their smoking breaks. They already lost minutes or half hour, so they have to hurry up and skip handwashing or thorough handwashing. 'The food is going to be cooked anyway; that would kill the bacteria from these hands.' No amount in my supervisory experiences, could make these people stick with a consistent hygiene. When I used to head a kitchen, I was constantly nagging my staff about their responsibility to the public; the trust of the public to have a good time, enjoy somebody's cooking and not get sick. I have observed that most men have unsanitary habits and they are the stubborn ones. Following directions from a woman was too painful for them. Instead of abiding by the health hazards improper handwashing pose, they succumb to male egotism. There are women, especially the younger set, who behave as unsanitary as the male equivalent, and therefore as stubborn as their equivalent. I am sure there are others who do the same nagging, reminding, lecturing to their employees. Does it work? No. Because we are still experiencing and suffering from bouts of food poisonings.
When you see a plate with the fine touch of artiness (that structurally-constructed surprise); you bet it has been handled by four or five cooks not including the waitstaff or server. It does take a lot of effort to come up with that appetizing plate. Effort means lots of hands (wash or unwashed). I do not intend to write a manual on handwashing techniques, of course. The Department of Health employs people to write about and police these into requirements and laws. I have no intention of discouraging anybody from eating out; not that it would happen at all. But awareness on the part of consumers can deliver reforms on optimistic level. I am not the face of gloom or doom, but sadly, we will continue to have negligent handwashers everywhere.