Foodborne Illness – About more than food safety practices

Food Safety Magazine came out with a fascinating article last week (the first in a series of three), titled The Tragedy of Foodborne Illness: Much Is Preventable.

According to the article, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that over 3,000 people die each year in the U.S. from foodborne illness. That is an average of eight people per day. An estimated 128,000 people are hospitalized each year. That is an average of 350 people per day.

The numbers are incredible when you think about it. How is that OK?!

One of the parts of the article that should shock you most:

Unfortunately, many restaurant food handlers are not following best food safety practices. As a result, according to CDC 48% of food borne illness is traced to restaurants.


While following simple food safety rules – such as a food handler staying home when sick, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables, cooking meat properly, and watching time and temperature rules – can prevent many epidemics … it still doesn’t tell the entire story.  Pests and vermin in restaurants can also be the cause of many illnesses. Cockroaches in a kitchen can lead to gastroenteritis-related illnesses such as food poisoning and dysentery. Flies are noted for their propensity to spread Salmonella, but also carry and distribute Shigella and Escherichia coli (E. coli), the bacteria responsible for illnesses like dysentery and E. coli-based food poisoning.

Have you ever experienced an unfortunate bout of Salmonella or “food poisoning” after eating out? Salmonellosis is just one bacterium that rodents can carry and pass along to humans through food contamination. The CDC reports of Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCMV) and Rat-Bite Fever (Haverhill fever) as well as other serious illnesses that can result from rodent-to-food-to human transmission, such as the more rare and sometimes fatal Leptospirosis (Weil’s disease) and Hantavirus (Pulmonary Syndrome).

Following all of the food safety rules listed above is a start to preventing foodborne illnesses, but so much more needs to be done. While some restaurants are proactive, most are unfortunately not… which is why we have created PFE. PFE identified the need for greater accountability, and developed a comprehensive plan designed for responsible, concerned restaurant owners who want to be proactive. PFE-Verified restaurant owners want their customers to know that they are taking the extra step to insure the safety and well being of their patrons.


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Everything You Wanted to Know About Roaches But Were Afraid to Ask



Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I suspect it’s an almost universally held opinion that roaches are outright ugly.  Once we progress past the hysteria and fearfulness that exists around the images of these critters, then what?  Are they really these filthy little beasts they’re rumored to be?  After all, don’t some people EAT roaches? (The answer is yes.  Cockroaches are also allergens, prompting asthma attacks in many people.)


There are people who claim that cockroaches aren’t dirty.  Roaches aren’t independently dirty in the same way that a toilet bowl isn’t dirty on its own.  It’s all about the conditions, habits, and practices of roaches that have earned them their well-deserved reputations.  They are famous for the acts of picking up, tracking, and depositing all sorts of bacteria and it begins with their dining establishments of choice.


Cockroaches aren’t discriminating; they’ll eat just about anything.  They’ll heartily munch away on garbage, leftover scraps of food, grease, glue, paper, soap, books, leather and, yep, even hair.  Water is their lifeblood, so if there’s a source, they’ll be there.  As a nod to their durability, they can survive up to six weeks without food and two weeks without a head!  Since they can gain access into houses, restaurants and anywhere else where there’s food through a crack that’s 1/16th inch wide, they rarely face a starvation scenario. (Of course, if headless, eating is no longer an option!)


Since roaches hang in such unsavory environments, they pick up harmful bacteria—most commonly salmonella.  Salmonella infection is the most common foodborne illness according to the CDC and its recorded cases are on the rise.  Roaches have sticky legs that are particularly adept at holding on to this harmful bacteria and tracking it and their own fecal matter into the environments they love the most:  anywhere there is food!


Restaurants are havens for cockroach infestations.  They store and prepare large quantities of food, offer multiple opportunities for entry, and ample space for them to scatter and breed.  It’s why so many cases of salmonella food poisoning are sourced from dining out.


Monthly pest control services—PFE-Verified restaurants maintain their establishments in this fashion—is the only way to combat the armies of pests that will always be drawn to all that commercial kitchens have to offer.  The PFE-Verified database is such a valuable resource. What better way to be reassured that you are dining with peace of mind in a clean, roach-free, establishment?



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Restaurant Kitchens: Sick as Our Secrets

Consider that, today, many of our activities have a focus on the betterment of health and an improvement of our life conditions.  We strengthen our bodies and spirits by hitting the yoga mat.  We check labels to ensure our consumables are free of hormones, BPA, and scores of other potential health threats.  Through due diligence, we’ve identified potential food allergens that negatively affect us—gluten, dairy, nightshades, for example—eliminated them, and reaped the benefits of feeling better.  There’s been a significant movement away from processed food and toward organic.  We clean every household surface and our very own hands with anti-bacterial agents in hopes of keeping illness at bay; now we have environment-friendly versions available.  Courtesy of HEPA filters, we’re even able to give the air we breathe a good scrubbing.

The point is this: Our society is constantly forward thinking and ambitious in these efforts.  We’ve become educated; we’ve learned that life can look and feel better and we continuously pursue those improvements.  Therefore, it’s one of the goals of PFE-Verified to create dialogue around improved restaurant dining conditions.  It’s a segment of our lives that, though fraught with potential risk, is often overlooked.  Our company has two goals: 1) to educate the public about restaurant food prep and storage conditions and how those environments may affect our health and, 2) to support and elevate (via advertising, social media campaigns and promotions, and other membership benefits) the restaurants that do utilize pest control services on a contracted monthly basis.

In Rhode Island (PFE-Verified’s home base), the Department of Health posts its restaurant inspection reports online.  In conducting research for an article I’m working on, I was shocked to come across a report that summarized a series of inspections that the RI Department of Health conducted during the summer of 2012 at a local, very popular and beloved establishment located here in the Ocean State.  (Because our goal is to support, not disparage the restaurant industry, I won’t cite the restaurant by name.  All inspection reports are available on the Dept. of Health’s website or, better yet, dine with peace of mind at a PFE-verified restaurant!)  During one of the inspections—and this incident is what caused the subsequent return visits by the inspector; typically Rhode Island restaurants are inspected once every three to five years—a litany of violations were observed including both live and dead mice sightings as well as evidence of their droppings.

How does such a well-known and successful restaurant operate with live mice running around the kitchen?  It’s very simple and very common: They didn’t use any appropriate pest control services.  While the health inspector was present, the business owner called in an exterminator to devise a pest-control plan.  (The alternative option was to shut the business down until the issues were rectified.)  We want to believe the best of people; if this story has a happy and safe ending, the business in question has continued to retain the contracted, monthly services of an exterminator.  That consistent plan of attack is the only way to maintain a clean, pest-free facility.  But, what if they cancelled services after a few months?  Unfortunately, that’s the more common practice that we observe.  Once the Department of Health is satisfied that the violations have been satisfied, it’s reasonable to expect that they may not be back to inspect for years.  Pest-control and the health of their customer base weren’t priorities to this restaurant, prior to the summer of 2012; it’s reasonable to expect that, as it often happens, it would be the first operational cost to be cut from the budgets.  The bottom line:  It’s just an unknown until someone gets sick or an inspector returns again, someday.

It’s 2013 and we expect to either have full knowledge or the ability to acquire it readily.  We don’t need to dine amidst an air of mystery.  PFE-Verified was created so that the consumer could patronize businesses willing to offer full visibility of their kitchen-keeping practices.  Don’t we want to recognize and frequent those businesses as well as honor our own health and well being in this way?  We certainly take care of ourselves in so many other ways.  Foodborne illnesses and the damages they present are so serious.  There’s a way to look behind the curtain now.  We don’t have to just blindly trust others to be the stewards of our health; we can make educated decisions when dining out.  Knowledge is power; we all know that.  In this age, it also advances our status of wellness.

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8 Questions Every Restaurant Owner Needs To Ask




For all the “scary” restaurants out there, there are many terrific, wholly responsible dining establishments, as well.  We already have several listed in the PFE database and will be adding more, shortly.  (One of the benefits of PFE membership is staunch support and recognition of our registered restaurants.)  There’s also another community of culinary business owners who are progressing into the territory of “doing better.”

There are many tactics, easily implemented, that can help in the fight against vermin, pest, rodent, and insect infiltration in restaurant kitchens everywhere.  Pests pick up, track, and deposit germs and bacteria everywhere.  They are a source of many food borne illnesses, a scourge that is on the rise according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No matter the level of diligence, there’s always room for improvement.  Here are just a few questions that every food service business should be asking as they review conditions at their facility.  Monthly pest control services coupled with a PFE verification to alert the public that they are a safe, “dine with peace of mind” choice are positive components in the “big picture” of any restaurant’s profile. __________________________________________________________________________________

8.  Are food products ingredients such as flour, sugar, corn starch and salt being stored in sealed containers?

7.  How often do we wash garbage cans and do we use liners in our cans?  Garbage cans are a haven for germs, bacteria, rodent, pest, and insect infestation.

6.  How does the exterior of the building look?  A rat can access the interior through an opening the size of a quarter.  Cockroaches slip in through cracks that are only 1/16th of an inch.

5.  Do I have #16 mesh window screens with intact weather stripping installed in every window?

4.  Are doors, loading docks, or other points of entry being left open? Door sweeps and automatic doors may be part of the solution.

3.  Are the exterior lights attracting more insects and pests for us to contend with?

2.  Does a licensed exterminator provide services to our establishment?  How often? (Monthly treatment is necessary to keep vermin and pest infiltration at bay.)

 And the number ONE question that responsible restaurant owners should be asking themselves…

1.  Are we a PFE-verified restaurant?  And, if not, why?


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The Numbers Are In: They’ll Make You Sick



The numbers are in and it’s a good news-bad news situation.  Let’s focus on the positive first:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the numbers last week and meat-related foodborne illnesses have decreased since they started paying close attention to what was happening in relation to these sicknesses caused by our food, in the mid-nineties.  That’s good news.  Unfortunately, when looking at Salmonella and other new bacteria that are making their way onto the scene, the big picture of food poisoning isn’t looking as bright :  Overall, food poisoning cases are on the rise.


Salmonella poisoning, a dangerous bacteria that many of us are familiar with, is the most popular cause of food poisoning, accounting for 40% of all reported cases.  Last year, there were 7,800 reports, 33 deaths, with an estimated 200,000 unreported cases.  The existence of salmonella in restaurant kitchens can be the result of uncooked or undercooked meat, and the bacteria is also—yep, you guessed it—carried and transmitted by rodents.  It’s one of the reasons why that monthly pest-control service is so critical for commercial food establishments; vermin cannot be traipsing across food or food storage and prep areas.


Campylobacter is another bacteria that has made a surge in recent years.  Also contracted by uncooked or undercooked meat and able to be transmitted by animals, 35% of reported food poisoning cases are now being blamed on this scourge; the CDC claims that six of the 7,000 cases reported in 2012 resulted in death.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 25 to 30 unreported food poisoning events for every one that is recorded.


The way the stats look, the CDC believes that, every year, 48 million people in the United States (that’s one out of every six people) actually suffers food poisoning due to contamination.  Out of those millions of people, approximately 3,000 die from the infection each year.


Congress has been working with the FDA over the past couple of years to reduce foodborne illnesses at the manufacturing and farming stage.  That’s a positive initiative that will hopefully decrease these numbers somewhat.  What Congress can’t control is the handling of food and the environment of the food once it reaches its destination.  That’s where the public must be a catalyst for change.


In so many states, due to budget cutbacks and lack of funds, restaurant kitchens and other food service establishments are only inspected once every three to five years.  It’s just the reality of the situation, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t solutions.  We can ask the restaurants to provide visibility on their conditions; no one wants a brutal dose of Salmonella or Campylobacter poisoning!  We must ask the questions; it really has become a life or death matter.

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Welcome to the 21st Century. We Know Better.



Often, people don’t realize it, or perhaps they just don’t think about it, but there is such a trust relationship between dining patron and restauranteurs.  Though none of us can live our entire lives based in fear, we also have to be logical and mindful of valid threats and risks; food-related illnesses are so much more common than people know.  Many times, that food poisoning or “stomach bug” is a mild food-borne illness exposure, often a result of pest contamination in restaurants and other food-service establishments.

This week, another story of betrayal to the public hit the newsstands.  In East Rutherford, New Jersey, a buffet restaurant that has been shut down and fined twice in the four months they’ve been in business, was again found in violation of more basic health code requirements.  This time, for some reason, they are allowed to remain open on a “conditional” basis.

Their second closing, which occurred in March of 2013 (the first closing happened on their second day of business), was prompted upon a litany of horrifying violations including improper food temperature storage and food handling, sourcing food from unhealthy places, and the discovery of birds scavenging in food storage areas.  Despite that, it’s still one of the most popular restaurants around.  People line up at the door and around the corner, waiting to get into this place.  A “regular” shared his thoughts on the restaurant’s recent woes. “I’d go back. [The violations] don’t bother me. When I was in the Army during World War II, we fed 200 men with 10 mess kits, dipped our utensils in the same containers, and we didn’t get sick.”

It’s that ignorance-is-bliss mindset that is so concerning.  Sharing food with soldiers isn’t comparable to sharing food with birds.  There’s a vast difference between catching a common cold and catching  Seagulls carry all sorts of bacteria and highly antibiotic-resistant superbugs.  It’s 2013; we do things better now because we know better now.  We put our children in carseats, we wear bike helmets, and we don’t share common food containers and utensils amongst 200 people if we can help it.  We certainly cannot share our food with birds and expect to stay healthy.

So, what’s the big picture here?  Should you trust a restaurant with multiple closings and repeated violations?  That’s for you to decide, but there are so many businesses that honor that relationship of patron-service provider trust.  (That’s where I choose to spend my dining dollars.)  We have some listed on our PFE-Verified database and we are in talks with more restaurants that we hope to be adding very soon!  Learning about the threats that exist in some restaurant kitchens isn’t here to create shock value; the goal is always education.  Knowledge is power.  Connect with restaurants that honor their customer base and recognize the great responsibility they have to their customers’ health.  We can ask our favorite restaurants the question:  Do you have an exterminator spray your kitchen every month?  Are you willing to get listed on PFE’s database?  It’s a way that you can have peace of mind and your favorite eatery can have more visibility and recognition for all that they do right to protect you and your family.

POSTSCRIPT:  Today, April 23rd, we are launching a giveaway for a $50 gift certificate to PFE-Verified La Masseria, East Greenwich, RI.  You must be a Rhode Island resident to win this one.  Here’s the link to enter.  Good luck!!!

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Public Outcry: It’s a Game-Changer

I make an effort to keep up to date on what’s happening in the restaurant industry regarding both violations and victories.  Today, as I was working my way through the ever-growing reading list that is accumulating on my RSS feed, I encountered an article about some recent restaurant inspections that occurred in New Canaan, Connecticut.  Department of Health inspection criteria, rules, and regulations differ, not only between the New England states, but all throughout North America.  We have a PFE-Verified restaurant in New York City, with plans to expand further, so I educate myself on what’s happening in every region.


In the article about the Connecticut restaurants, the few businesses that were highlighted fared well during inspection, with the exception of one. (They were shut down for three days until their violations could be corrected.)  The comments section was what really caught my attention.


One commenter referenced her background of working in the restaurant industry and alluded to the conditions that she’s witnessed during that time.  She posted, “i’ve[sic] worked in the service industry and won’t blab about some of the things i’ve[sic] seen but, ignorance is bliss when you are out to eat.”


Her words gave me a moment’s pause. That sentiment is the perfect example of what I wrote about on Tuesday.  She’s the representative of what I witness and hear from so many people:  “Ignorance is bliss.”  Why are people so content to shut off their minds to reality when they eat at a restaurant?  Why don’t we ask the questions of our local restaurant owners?  Why do we require so much less of kitchen conditions where a paid meal is prepared than we’d ever tolerate in our own home?  [I’m working under the assumption that you don’t have mice running across your counters and roaches burrowing their way into your food containers.]


In 2011, in the state of Rhode Island, the Department of Health had only seven food inspectors responsible for inspecting the 8,000 food establishments that exist statewide.  That’s an impossible equation resulting in these commercial spaces being inspected (maybe) every three years.  And this isn’t a set of rare circumstances specific to the Ocean State; funding cuts have made this the norm throughout the United States.  It’s why we, the general dining public, must get involved and ask for accountability from the restaurant owners.  Because, when customers request services, managers and proprietors who care about their client base, respond.

State agencies just do not have the manpower to adequately protect us from food borne diseases.  These illnesses cannot be shrugged off as a 24-hour bout of food poisoning; sometimes they are fatal.  (I’ll be writing more about that next week.)  Eating out should be a positive experience, not some fear-based roll of the dice.  PFE-Verified’s goal is to identify the many restaurants and food service establishments that do maintain clean, pest-free conditions and get that information out to the public so that we can all indulge in some confident dining.  It seems so easy; doesn’t it?

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PFE-Verified Hits The Airwaves

UPDATE:  Here is the link to the show!  Click here.



On Friday, April 5th, we were fortunate enough to be a guest on The Good Living Show on WSAR 1480AM  Talk, produced by “powerhouse voice” Patricia Raskin and hosted by Jennifer Laurenco.  The Good Living Show focuses on health and wellness, lifestyle, fashion, and business strategies conducted in positive ways.  PFE-Verified was so happy to be able to share our message in such a positive environment.


It’s a fine balance of needing to educate the public about just how many illnesses are transmitted via cockroach and rodent infiltration in restaurant settings and delivering the information without being completely off-putting.  The truth is this:  Though talking about dirty restaurant kitchen conditions is, admittedly, an unappetizing discussion that conjures up unpleasant visions, denial in the form of, “I don’t want to know,” or “I don’t want to think about it,” can lead to really harmful, unhealthy results.  Ignorance isn’t bliss.


A 2009 New York Times article accurately identified what we encounter every day.  When restaurants cut costs, pest control services are the first operational service to go, despite their critical importance.  In Friday’s interview, our spokesperson, Wendie Tobin, spoke of this challenge.  There are conscientious restaurants and food-service establishments that recognize the threats posed by unsanitary kitchen conditions and address those issues with a contract of scheduled pest-control service.  Some restaurants employ pest control only on an as-needed basis, and many businesses attempt to take matters into their own hands.  In Rhode Island, it’s illegal for a layperson to spray pesticides in a commercial food area; there’s a reason why licensed exterminators go through a certification process!  Unfortunately, there is also a class of restaurant owners that ignore the rodents, insects, and other critters, altogether.


During our time on The Good Living Show, we made sure to give a shout out to each of our initial wave of valued PFE-Verified restaurants, which can be viewed on our database page.  They are committed to their customers’ health by keeping clean, pest-free food storage and prep areas.  (We are excited to add more wonderful restaurants in 2013.)  Advancements often materialize in response to public need.  We all need to be asking restaurants to do better.  Ask your favorite dining establishment to be PFE-Verified. If they have a contract of pest control services, it’s a minimal effort for them to be verified.  It offers peace of mind and reassurance for you, support and promotion for clean, pest-free restaurants, and a positive initiative committed to the hygienic and better living that we require of our own homes.


As we await a link to last Friday’s interview—we’ll post it as soon as we have access—we encourage you to check out The Good Living Show producer Patricia Raskin’s website.  She’s doing some great things.


From her website:


Patricia Raskin, host of the Patricia Raskin Positive Living™ radio show, is a nationally recognized multi-media radio talk show host, award-winning producer, media coach, speaker and author. She is recognized by her peers and listeners as the “powerhouse voice” behind lifestyle, health and wellness, inspirational, and personal growth talk radio.

Patricia helps people turn their obstacles into opportunities and challenges into solutions to make their dreams come true through her renowned interviews with the “best of the best” motivational and self-improvement experts. Patricia has interviewed nearly 2,000 guests on her Patricia Raskin Positive Living™ television and radio programs; including Jane Seymour, Jack Canfield, Dr. John Gray, Joan Lunden, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Maya Angelou, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dean McDermott, and Richard Bach.


Patricia has also authored two books, Success, Your Dream and You and Pathfinding: 7 Principles for Positive Living, in addition to writing nearly 700 newspaper columns and producing and hosting over 500 television shows and documentaries.

Patricia’s Patricia Raskin’s Positive Living™ programs have aired on Fox, PBS, and NPR affiliates, and WTKF, 107.3 FM. Patricia Raskin Positive Living program can currently be heard Saturdays 3-5pm ET on Southern New England’s leading radio station, 630 WPRO AM, 99.7 FM,, Mondays @ 2pm ET on, and “Postive Business” Fridays on AM790 3-5PM.




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PFE-Verified: Answering the Call

Proverbs stand the test of time for a reason; they are built on principles of truth.  Necessity really is the mother of invention.  A couple years ago, I got to thinking about restaurants; specifically, I wanted to know which restaurants in Rhode Island had clean, safe kitchens, not overrun with rodents, cockroaches, and other vermin.  Based on the horror stories I’d see on the news and read in the newspaper, I was in search of some peace of mind.  What restaurant could I bring my family and feel some reassurance that the conditions behind the kitchen door were what I would consider acceptable?  Was I better off eating at one of the heavy hitters in the heart of Providence or a small diner in Warwick?  I knew enough about the restaurant business to know that pest infiltration is a reality of commercial kitchens, but I was also aware that there are ways to combat these issues.  I didn’t know how to determine which restaurants were responsible and vigilant in their pest control practices.


I began doing market research to see if there was interest in having access to this information and quickly learned that I wasn’t alone; the public shared my concerns.  In simplistic terms, people don’t want bugs, mice droppings, and other hideous artifacts in their food, and they do want access to a list of trusted dining establishments that keep clean, safe, pest-free kitchens.  The Rhode Island Department of Health does what they can, but they are far too overworked and understaffed to monitor the conditions of the thousands of commercial kitchens in the state.  There was no existing industry to provide oversight and support to the efforts of restaurant owners that do care enough to go the extra mile by keeping their restaurants safe and clean.  PFE created that industry.


What Does PFE-Verified Mean?


In our first few months of operation, six well-respected businesses have become PFE-verified in Rhode Island, with many more to be added to our database in 2013.  PFE-verification means that PFE monitors the restaurant facilities that commit to a higher level of pest control to ensure that they are maintaining the safe, pest-free environment that provides you peace of mind.  We support the dining community by keeping you informed of restaurants in your neighborhood that are committed to maintaining those safer, hygienic standards via our online restaurant listing.

Sure, there are business owners in every industry who won’t do more than what is required by law; after all, if they have an established customer base, they may have a “why bother?” attitude.  But, when it comes to food preparation and consumption, well-educated and conscientious restaurant managers and owners understand foodborne illnesses that can come with ill-kept storage and prep areas, and take measured actions to protect their valued customers’ health and well-being.  PFE is committed to keeping the residents of Rhode Island “in the know” about the best places to bring your friends and family for a great meal, prepared in the safest, cleanest environment.

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