The Hidden Dangers of Eating Out

All of us like to go out to eat, and here in New England we love our fried seafood. As a long time culinary worker there are some things I expect when I order my fried clams, clean oil used only for my seafood aka other things like chicken and fries are cooked in a separate fryer (fryalator if New England Native) because I may love fried clams but I want my potatoes to taste like themselves, but most of all I want the breading or batter used for my clams fresh! I have worked at a couple of local New Hampshire kitchens, well known locally, that take their fry batter flour, a fake but acceptably tasting sub to the traditional beer batter, and keep re sifting it and using it from day to day. So as this continues from shift to shift it becomes hard to tell how far back the oldest flour actually is. Not only is that gross it can truly effect the taste and quality of the product, who wants to feed their seafood weary child chicken fingers that were breaded in flour used to bread clams the day before, with a side of french fries that were cooked in the same frier as shrimp. That kid won’t be eating dinner that night.

From 1994 to about 2005 I worked in the food service industry in Las Vegas, Nevada and as little as I liked living in Las Vegas I give Clark County serious props for running there food service industry well. Here in New England on the other hand I am disgusted by what goes on . I was eating out at a local chain once and one of the cooks used the restroom wearing his gloves then went back into the kitchen without changing them. This one place that claimed that they were clean during my interview and on my first I found enough grease collected in a tray under the grill to power a compact bio-fueled car, couldn’t get the burnt grease taste out of my mouth for two days. I’ve seen shrimp that was breaded for nearly ten days be served, same place cooked their turkey dinners for Thanksgiving on Monday morning. I throw leftovers that have been in the fridge for two days away, I sure as hell don’t want to pay to have them served to me.

I have been trying to work in kitchens here since moving back and just can’t keep a job in one which is causing a major rift between my wife and I. She is under the impression that the right thing to do is be complacent about what is going on, to shut my mouth and let them either underpay me or pay me well but expect a 6 day work week with no overtime because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you have a child. I am not saying she’s wrong from the perspective that you need an income but from the point of view of teaching your child of taking responsibility for your actions it’s different. If you are in a kitchen you are taking on the responsibility of another persons health, and money can’t buy complacency. Sure you have to do what you have to do for your child but that gives you no right to send someone’s child to the hospital because you breaded her chicken in flour that was used to bread the clams she was allergic to. Many parents would ask the right questions to avoid this, but as many if not more wouldn’t because who would ever think raw clams and raw chicken would meet during preparation, I wouldn’t unless the dish called for it. I just can’t work in bloody kitchens anymore and every day I find the whole concept of dining out less and less appealing. For safety purposes, I suggest everyone take a closer look at their favorite eatery.

Since I originally wrote this manifesto on why you’d be better off dining at home where you’re germs are the only ones in the mix, I worked a summer at another fried seafood joint here in New England frying seafood for tourists. I saw, flat out one of the top five grossest things I’ve witnessed in a kitchen. I’ll share the other four with you as a nasty lead in.

1. A kitchen I was in out in Las Vegas had a sewage backup leaving the line covered in dirty water and sludge, as if cooking in the situation wasn’t gross enough, the General Manager got on his knees wiped some up with table napkins stood up and grabbed plates to be taken to the dinning room. A few years later I showed up for work in a different place and the Health Department had the place shut down because they had Rotor Rooter in taken food out of a floor drain while people were prepping food. If the health department had shown up while we were cooking in a few inches of raw sewage we would have been screwed, luckily the assistant manager stopped food production till it was taken care of.

2 and 3. Gloves, the biggest myth in the business. I was working in a big national chain that is heavily promoted on TV and fine dinning to Ricky Bobby, has a glove fetish for some reason, they think they’re clean. I was working at one of many of this culinary disaster and I watched a Kitchen Manager bend over with his gloved hand, empty a floor drain of kitchen debris, then get back up without changing his glove or washing his hands and continue to handle guests food. In a more local New England chain but heavily pushed in the region, I was dining as a customer and witnessed a cook enter the restroom in his gloves and exit it with his gloves on. I wonder if these two jackasses had some magic self cleaning gloves the rest of us don’t know about.

4. A truly poor example of American capitalism is restaurants opening on Thanksgiving, a day that people should be home with their families giving thanks for what they have, not going to under tip people who wish they could be with theirs. I was at one of those genius Thanksgiving operations, they cooked the Turkey’s on Monday and covered them with wet towels, normally used to clean up and not intended to touch food, until Thursday. I just find that really gross and down right inc0nsiderate to the people you charge to feed it to. Why a restaurant would go through the labor of cooking full turkeys for 600 is lost on me anyway, if you don’t plan on making a ton of turkey stock buy boneless breasts, thighs and legs. If you want to open for Thanksgiving at least give people what they came in for a fresh dinner not bloody leftovers. The worst about that one was after being the better part of two weeks old, they wanted to sell it as turkey sandwiches.

5. To this final gem, in a lot of ways this is the grossest, a direct transference of some down right dangerous bacteria. At this summer place, we were smokers, out the back door sucking down nicotine like it was our life line. Now when you smoke saliva gets on your hands, it’s just the way of things and you’re supposed to wash them before returning to cooking, I rarely saw the other cooks do it. Fine whatever, not that gross in the whole of things but this one day the smoke break turned into, which I didn’t partake in, a pimple popping party. Yeah, grown men were popping each others zits in mixed company. If that wasn’t nasty enough, I was the only one to wash my hands.

Many people in the business, and some outside the business use the argument “Nobody has gotten sick yet”, words that should never be uttered by a professional culinary workers. The last career profile test I took had me at a 26% success rate in the Food Service Industry, and much of what I have laid out in this rant is why. I could never run a place because I’d be firing or suspending a cook everyday. An owner that demanded I cook whole turkeys three full days before Thanksgiving would be cooking them himself. As far as ever putting my own money into a place, never, if you do it right it’s a five year gap before you start earning a decent profit or you cut corners and play with peoples well being or food quality if you can get a staff that’s clean. I urge anyone reading this to consider actually going to a doctor if you get sick eating out, the more people that ride these bugs out on their porcelain ponies at home the more places get away with gross practices.

The Hidden Dangers of Eating Out

Jason Lee Jodoin

Joined August 2007

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