Avoiding Food Poisoning on the Road: The Visual Inspection

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Avoiding Food Poisoning on the Road: The Visual Inspection

Avoiding Food Poisoning on the Road: The Visual Inspection

Well, I just got over a rousing case of food poisoning. We ate at this little local restaurant that is near the campground and we both got sick. I have had it before and know then signs well – I’ll spare you the details. The place looked clean and I did not see any signs of a sanitation problem so I suspect it is a food handling issue.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how susceptible we can be to foodborne illness while on the road. Eating at restaurants puts us at risk because, let’s face it, we don’t really know exactly how our food is handled in the kitchen. Even cooking in our RV can pose a risk.

I am pretty fanatical about sanitation, food handling, and proper preparation but when I eat out, it is out of my control. So I am starting this multi part series on avoiding foodborne illness. I will talk to you about what it means when you see certain insects in the dining room, signs of food poisoning, how to avoid food poisoning at home and at restaurants, what to do if you think you have gotten food poisoning, and more.

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Visual Inspection
The easiest way to tell if you are at risk for food poisoning when you walk into a restaurant is to simply take a look around. If their health department rating posted where you can easily see it? What is it? Tip: If it is a B, B- or worse you probably don’t want anything to do with the place.
Do the employees have an accessible sink with soap and running water to wash their hands? Observe for a bit to see if they are washing their hands frequently. Oh, and if you see an employee in the restroom who does not wash their hand, run!

Speaking of restaurant restrooms, if there is no soap, the bathroom is dirty, or the soap is diluted, those are all red flags. Same goes for anything dirty: cups, utensils, plates, self-serve areas, Tables, the floor, and overflowing garbage cans – the same people who clean the dining room are likely cleaning the kitchen. While even a spotless dining room is no guarantee, a dirty one should send you out the door.

Check out the employees. Are any of them sick or seem angry or disgruntled? Many employees come to work even if they are sick because they need the money. Unfortunately, you can wind up sharing what they have. Angry or disgruntled employees should also raise an alarm. Often when they are upset with their employer they will take it out on the customers. Not cool, but it happens all too often – do a search on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean (and you’ll probably never eat out again).

Beware of a kitchen you can’t see. I realize that many restaurants have hidden kitchens, but think about it. If you can’t see the kitchen you can’t see how your food is being handled or how dirty (or clean) the kitchen is.

My husband used to do commercial pest control which meant he went into a lot of commercial kitchens. When we lived in D.C. he serviced some of the finest restaurants in the area – even the country. The stories I could tell you – I think I will.

One very prestigious restaurant in The District was a regular customer of his. He would never take me there because he said the kitchen was overrun with roaches and was filthy. Now, this is a restaurant that is charging upwards of $30 a plate! His exact words used to describe the kitchen were “disgusting” and “nauseating.” He said he didn’t know how they ever passed their health inspections, but in his opinion they should not have.
There were also several Chinese restaurants that he serviced. Now I love Chinese food as much as the next gal, but sometimes cultures clash. The standards across the ocean are a little different than they are in the states. What they view as OK, we might see as unacceptable. A couple of the restaurants were great and we would eat there, but there were some that he told me to avoid.

He tells a story about one owner he talked to about his roach problem in the kitchen of his restaurant. He told the owner that in order to get 100% elimination of the roach population he needed to service the place more frequently – according to the reproductive cycle of German roaches. The owner held up his hand, shaking his head. He said, “You Americans want too much! 80% is OK.”

Would YOU like any of the 20% of the roach population in his kitchen walking over YOUR food?

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Stephanie A. Mayberry


Stephanie A. Mayberry

Stephanie A. Mayberry escaped the hustle and bustle of city life in Washington, D.C. where she worked as an analyst, FOIA officer, and technical writer for the U.S. federal government to pursue her first love, freelance writing, full time. She has been a writer, author, public speaker, and photographer for more than 25 years; now she, her husband, and little dog Gizmo enjoy the laid back lifestyle as RV full-timers going wherever the wind takes them. Learn more about Stephanie at stephaniemayberry.com

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