My Food Safety Obsession
First published April 2015
Has your vague awareness of something ever unexpectedly evolved into a full-fledged fixation? Then, everywhere you go, you are reminded of your new obsession? It’s like a catchy tune that you can’t stop humming three days after you hear it. I am currently in the midst of this frustrating predicament. My new obsession is the rampant disregard for food safety.
Recently, I read that the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year approximately 1 in 6 Americans gets sick as a result of foodborne diseases. Of those who fall ill, 3,000 die as a result. Pathogens such as salmonella and norovirus top the list of offending contaminants causing these illnesses. Unsafe food handling practices can lead to the spread of these pathogens, ultimately contributing to the incidence of foodborne illnesses.
This troublesome revelation quickly raised my awareness of proper food handling practices to a new level. Not only do I now notice things that I didn’t notice before, but I also get rather agitated and anxious when I notice them.
- At the sub shop, I observed a worker interrupt his sandwich preparation to ring up a customer’s purchase, and then return to making the sandwich. He didn’t wash his hands or even change his gloves in between each task. I immediately thought about all the germs on the money he touched and I felt sorry for the person getting that next sandwich.
- At a buffet restaurant, I noticed a server refill the raw seafood selection at the sushi station, and then use the same tongs to stir the cooked sweet and sour chicken at another serving station. The uneasy thought of likely cross-contamination made me cringe with concern.
- As I retrieved a can of soda from a vending machine at work, I wondered what it had come in contact with on its way into the machine. I thoroughly washed the rim of the can and then looked for a straw.
- One glance at the health inspection results in the local online newspaper made me shudder. I looked up my favorite restaurants and my heart sank as I tallied the number of violations each had accumulated during their last inspection. Where was I going to eat my weekly Friday night dinner with my friends?
Think about how often you eat out. Keep in mind that eating out can include events other than enjoying a meal served in a restaurant dining room. From your morning coffee at the fast food drive-thru to your afternoon vending machine snack and then lunch on the go, you are continually subjected to the effects of potentially hazardous food safety practices throughout the day. Even the smallest infraction in storing, preparing or serving any one of these foods could result in a lengthy and unpleasant trip to the emergency room, or worse. With food safety violations continually threatening us, how is it that we aren’t all doubled over in dire gastric distress? I would think that more than 1 in 6 of us would become ill.
Admittedly, I sometimes wish that I wasn’t afflicted with this new-found food safety obsession. I’m exhausted from being hyper vigilant about the safety of my food. I simply don’t have time for a phobia – it’s maddening! I even started to think I might be better off not knowing any of it. After all, I have never been stricken with a food related illness.
However, although I would like to think that ignorance is bliss, I realize that, in this case, ignorance can be toxic. So, instead of becoming paranoid and hesitant to eat out ever again, I have decided to make friends with my new food safety obsession and use my knowledge for good. How, you ask? I’ll start by being more observant of my servers’ food handling practices and I’ll speak up if I see a food safety concern. I don’t think that anyone wants to intentionally cause harm; maybe they just don’t know any better. It’s important to raise awareness when I can, so that potential safety issues can be quickly corrected.
Finally, I’ll give more attention to the weekly health inspection results of restaurants, and avoid establishments which consistently accumulate violations. Of course, I can’t prevent all food safety issues, but I can reduce my exposure to them through continued and enthusiastic vigilance. While my eyes have definitely been opened to the world of food safety, my mouth will still sometimes remain shut.