Posted by Patrick Maness
It seems about every year or so there is a dangerous bacterial outbreak in a major restaurant. Such an outbreak never fails to stir up the industry and cause consumers to worry, and in response we hear about massive recalls and see companies implement strategic PR campaigns.
And the problem is more pervasive than you might think. In 2014 alone, over 8,000 food products were recalled by the FDA.
Some foods are inherently unsafe to eat. So much so that Bill Marler, a renowned food-safety lawyer who has seen a lot of what food-borne illness can do, has identified six foods he won’t touch. They are:
Unpasteurized (or “raw”) milk and unpasteurized packaged juices — Because these products harbor bacteria, viruses and parasites, the risk they pose far exceeds any benefit.
Raw sprouts — They seem innocent, but the link between raw and under-cooked sprouts with salmonella and E. coli is too great to risk it.
Meat that isn’t well-done — If meat isn’t cooked through to 160 degrees, it can cause E. coli and salmonella poisoning.
Pre-washed or pre-cut fruits and vegetables — The more food is handled and processed, the more likely it is to be contaminated.
Raw or under-cooked eggs — Rocky’s famous breakfast drink should not be imitated. In addition, you shouldn’t eat your eggs sunny-side up.
Raw oysters and other raw shellfish — Because oysters are filter feeders, everything in the ocean goes through them. Warming waters have been linked to an increase in illnesses possibly caused by oysters.
It may be surprising to note Marler doesn’t have much concern about eating sushi. This raw-fish delicacy is generally safe for the simple reason that from the moment the fish is caught, it is treated with care until it reaches the chef.
Beyond safe food temperatures: What can restaurants do?
A lot of people would think this list is overkill. Meat safety is of course a concern, but come on, are you really going to order a nice porterhouse well-done?
The sushi example, however, is telling. What should be a dangerous food is actually quite safe, and this is because the careful handling methods that are needed to ensure it tastes good also keep it relatively free from food-borne pathogens.
The moral for restaurant owners is to know your distributor! Being aware of the safety measures your distributor follows (along with enforcing your own best practices) can allow you to safely and confidently serve steak tartar, oysters and even a side of sprouts.
Read other articles in this series: