Do you know where your food has been, who touched it, who breathed or sneezed on it, how it was prepared?
Annia Ciezadio insists in The Washington Post “The safety problem for restaurants isn’t the dining room. It’s the kitchen.” Restaurant employees work in close quarters and are too rushed to take proper safety precautions, most do not have health care coverage and cannot afford to remain home when they are sick. They work anyway.
And managers do not stop them. They want cheap labor.
Undocumented labor is in a particularly tough position when it comes to staying home while sick. In many restaurants they are the invisible workers doing the hardest and dirtiest tasks such as using high pressure sprayers to clean dishes (and blowing mist into the air all over the kitchen). In my county 84% of those diagnosed with coronavirus are Hispanic. As in many places in our country, the main outbreaks have been in animal processing plants, locally that is seafood. The work is hard and even dangerous, and proper precautions to ensure both food and worker safety are perhaps lacking?
[Years ago ICE came through my county, and all my Hispanic students, whether documented or not, stayed home from school. The vice principal, contrary to law, had called the federal agency to report them. The principal had a fit because the job of public schools is, by law, to educate the public not to question citizenship. It was a question that as a teacher I did not ask. In the mean time on that long ago day, every restaurant in the county temporarily closed. I used to tell my students, themselves often called upon to work hours well beyond the legal limit for their age, that the only way many businesses stayed open was because of their labor and the labor of undocumented individuals. We do not want to pay.]
Sensible precautions seem too difficult even for some home cooks and bakers. I was reading an article online about the best way to separate eggs—removing the yolk from the egg white. In the comment section people complained the preferred method of removing egg yolks by sifting through fingers was annoying because they would then have to wash their hands right after.
I thought: you mean you do not wash your hands every time you touch eggs?
I wash my hands before I begin cooking and any time I handle something raw, especially eggs and even the carton they come in since I was taught to be cautious of Salmonella. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 79,000 cases of foodborne illness and 30 deaths each year are caused by eating eggs contaminated with Salmonella.”
We cannot even rely on health care to take proper health care. Decades ago when half my family was diagnosed with giardia, a parasite carried by mountain beavers, the local clinic did not report the infection to County Health. But I had looked up regulations and so I reported it. The county had not had a report, the nurse said, in a couple of years yet the pharmacy that filled my prescription said they filled that prescription several times a week.
When my husband managed a grocery store (and was still eating meat) he stopped buying meat from his own store because he’d witnessed how his butcher handled product. When he later worked in a deli he only ate sandwiches he had prepared himself because one of his co-workers picked his nose while making sandwiches. That popular deli was regularly cited for health violations, the produce guy failed to clean his cases for months at a time (Gary wound’s buys produce there either), and there were rats that came out at night. One Whole Foods in Portland stank so bad near the meat department that I spoke to the manager about the smell. Gary speculated that the “diaper” under their meat cases was not being properly changed out. It was bad the next time too, and we stopped shopping there. Before the pandemic we had a wonderful Thai meal, but Gary won’t return to the restaurant because tables and dishes were not clean. We have seen servers handle both food and money without washing hands, despite what we fear lingers on bills. Of course these days most businesses will not accept paper money for fear of passing illness.
A dollar bill probably isn’t the greatest danger we face while eating out.
Too many do not even understand the most basic truths about illness. A friend said she never got a flu shot because she never vomited. She did not know that influenza is a respiratory illness.
So-called “stomach flu” is not influenza, but what is more accurately labeled gastroenteritis, inflammation of the digestive system—food poisoning—usually caused by food contaminated with a virus or bacteria—pickers who do not have access to proper restrooms, packers who do not properly wash their hands, preparers who sneeze without a mask, food that is unwashed or improperly stored or handled. Our food is often unclean and many Americans do not know how to manage food properly, or do know and fail to do it consistently.