Most of us have read chilling articles about the many foodborne illnesses due to E.Coli that make children deathly sick, servers accidentally giving alcohol to young kids, food allergies making people miserable, and even restaurant workers who show up sick when they should be recuperating at home.
Data from the CDC shows that there are approximately 500 foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants and delis, affecting thousands of people this past year. The likely culprits included ice, sushi, sandwiches, cake, shrimp products, and undercooked beef to name a few. Despite the many horror stories we read about, people still enjoy eating out and still trust the restaurant industry. So when eating out, there are easy steps that can make your dining experience safe and enjoyable.
Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from contracting foodborne illnesses:
- Opt for well-done meats instead of medium or rare
- Have eggs cooked thoroughly, avoid runny yolks or whites
- Choose cooked veggies instead of raw salads
- Refrigerate left-overs immediately and reheat thoroughly before eating
Restaurants also play their part in striving to avoid the mistakes that can make you sick. Here are some of the issues they face, any of which can increase the risk of illness and, in some instances, food spoilage:
· Cross contamination. Just like at home, raw meat should be prepared separately from other foods, like salads.
· Illness. A recent study out of Duke University suggests that close to 1 in 10 restaurant workers goes to work sick. This won't cause foodborne illness, but could give you the same cold or flu the worker had if he didn't wash his hands, wear latex gloves, or cover his mouth when he sneezed
· Allergies. If you have food allergies, check with the staff to find out how dishes are prepared. Allergic reactions to common foods such as shellfish and peanut oil could be avoided.
· Temperature control. Keeping freezers and refrigerators at the correct temperatures prevents foodborne illness. Likewise, keeping hot dishes hot enough (when set out at a buffet, for instance) to prevent bacterial growth is key. The health department checks all of these settings during an inspection.
· Sanitation. You won't be able to see behind the kitchen doors, but restaurants that keep kitchens and storage areas sanitized, clean, and dry cut down on foodborne illness and contamination from pests that are attracted to stored food. Steer clear of eating establishments that are obviously unclean or whose cleanliness is questionable.