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Food safety beyond the storm or know thy restaurant

August 30, 2011

Tropical Storm Irene has us all thinking more about food safety.  The resulting power outages have led to lots of spoiled food in the fridge, no hot water, and in some cases no water at all. That makes it pretty difficult to run a hygienic kitchen or restaurant.

Last night, a spokesperson from the Department of Health told my colleague Ian Donnis that around 2,000 restaurants across the state are closed due to a lack of power.  Some good friends of mine had to cancel a fabulous wedding party because their lake house might not get electricity until next week. Who knew our health was so dependent on National Grid?

But we don’t just need electricity to keep our food safe. The contaminated Zeppoles taught Rhode Island that lesson earlier this year. What is it that really guarantees that the stuff we eat won’t make us sick?

Obviously, multiple factors  play into food safety, but you can learn a lot from the Department of Health’s Food Protection Inspection Reports. Type in the name of your favorite restaurant or peruse the food establishments in your area code.  You’ll get a brief summary of any food violations and a link to the full report.  It took my mom to this restaurant when she was visiting from out of town. Here are its most recent violations-

# Violation
8 Adequate handwashing facilities supplied and accessible

Inspector Comments
Soap was not available at the handsink in the kitchen. Hand sinks must be provided with a supply of hand cleaning liquid, powder, or bar soap.

38 Personal cleanliness

Inspector Comments
Cook are not wearing hair restraints. Food employees must wear hair restraints such as hats, hair coverings or nets that are worn to effectively keep their hair from contacting exposed food, clean equipment utensils, linens and unwrapped single-service and single-use articles.

41 In-use utensils: properly stored

Inspector Comments
The (ice scoop) is stored on an unclean surface (top of ice machine) between uses. During pauses in food preparation, utensils must be stored on a clean surface or in a clean protected location.

Ok, so maybe this stuff is a little minor, but it’s good to know. The sink in the kitchen didn’t have soap? And the ice scoop was just sort of left out on the top of the ice machine? According to the full report, these mistakes were corrected on the spot, so by the time I ate there everything could have been entirely up to code.

I’ll still go back to enjoy the food and drink at what really is a lovely establishment. But I might take a closer look at the kitchen to make sure everyone is washing their hands.

Check out the directory and see what you find.  It might make you rethink your favorite spots for eating out, or at least make it clear who takes food safety seriously and who doesn’t.

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