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.

Posted in: food safety, health inspections, restaurants, Uncategorized

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