Public health inspection findings that will turn your stomach
Studies released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that many of the people who prepare food for a living lack basic knowledge of food safety.
To better understand the origins of foodborne illness outbreaks, the public health institute looked at the habits of hundred of kitchens across the United States. Included, though not named, were restaurants in Minnesota
Here are several key findings within the reports that will make you second-guess the value of your next reservation:
- Close to two-thirds of restaurant workers do not wash their hands after handling raw beef, increasing the odds of spreading E. coli onto cooked foods
- Two-fifths of restaurants do not use separate cutting boards for raw chicken and a quarter of managers admitted that they don't often use disposable gloves
- Almost half of the vegetable shipments inspected were not delivered at the recommended 41 degrees Fahrenheit
Probably the grossest revelation came from interviews with employees -- almost two-thirds of whom said they had worked at some point in the last year while they were sick. Twenty percent of the same group also admitted that they had worked at least one shift "with vomiting or diarrhea."
That's right. Vomiting or diarrhea.
Should we be worried?
"Minnesota's statistics fairly mirror the national ones," said Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health. "Every time you're carrying a lot of food, and the number of customers are high enough, something's bound to happen. I don't want to sound fatalistic, but it's just numbers."
In 2005, the state health department confirmed 41 outbreaks involving at least two people -- including five cases of Salmonella and one case of E. coli -- and identified, though couldn't prove, another 13.
In one instance, a group of 20 maintenance workers in Minneapolis wolfed down roast beef sandwiches with a side of norovirus. Thirteen feverishly explosive hours ensued. State health inspectors put the blame on a single sick employee who'd likely been "shedding the virus at the time of food preparation."
It was a typical year -- at least until the mid 2000s. We would offer more recent stats but couldn't get them on short notice. Anything after 2005 is not available on the state health department website and must be requested. Although that sounds like more work, not less, Schultz insisted it was the result of budget cuts.
The state delegates some of its duties to counties and municipalities. An agreement with St. Paul was rescinded in July because of infrequent inspections and frequent errors in reporting.
Curious about a specific restaurant in your area? Call 651-201-5000 and ask for an inspection history. This site is handy for searching restaurants in Minneapolis.
A message left with the Minnesota Restaurant Association was not returned. Let's hope they're feeling OK.
-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
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