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Dear Restaurants January 31, 2009

Posted by Michael Valladares in Blogging, Environmental Health.
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The saying goes you can’t judge a book by its cover, but rather its contents.   If that is the case for books I would state the opposite is true for most restaurants.  Notice I say “most”, there are a select few that fall outside the line and do shine, but those are rare. 
I am sure everyone has seen or caught a glimpse of the television reality show Kitchen Nightmares, and is acquainted with the horrors the host of the show finds in various kitchens throughout the US. Yes, I am talking about that three month old shrimp which the chef bought in the summer and is still in the refrigerator waiting for some poor soul to consume and die from poisoning.  The kitchen cook who comes to work sick and sneezes all over the food while cooking, and even the customers whom are allowed to dine and socialize in the kitchen area within hands reach of all the food orders.   
You restaurants know who you are.  You are the ones who tell me:

; “the date 7/1/2005 is the date it was made…it’s still good”, “the refrigerator just broke down this morning”, that mystery meat with yellow appendages at the top shelf was cooked “yesterday”, “we just ran out of soap and hot water to wash our hands, but we wash our hands in the public restroom”, and even “yeah we have a name for the mouse…Bo-jingles”.  And when asked, would you or your family dine here, the answer is “no way”. 
Most restaurants spend a fortune in creating an ambience and unique style to attract customers, but little thought goes into the functionality and maintenance of the kitchen and its staff.  When I walk into a kitchen my first question is “where is your nearest hand washing station”, and the looks and blank stares I receive are priceless.   Sometimes I get pointed to the restroom which is ok if I were a customer.  Other instances I am taken to a dark recess corner of the kitchen to a hand sink adorned with several weeks of dust and mildew.  If I am lucky I’ll find soap, and if I find paper towels I know I have struck it rich.  Amusingly, I always find giant posters or managements memos throughout the kitchen stating “All employees must wash hands after restroom use and before food preparation”.  Can anyone say Typhoid Mary?
One memo I found was actually quite hysterical it stated “if it’s green and smelly throw it away”, and this was in the walk in refrigerator. There is a reason why Maryland food regulations require you to label and date all prepared food products, but you restaurants don’t seem to understand.  Let me ask you restaurants a question, would you drink curdled milk or eat mayonnaise which expired four years ago, or try a salad dressing which mysteriously added more floating secret ingredients.  If you wouldn’t what makes you think your customers would?
Lastly, if you restaurants spent at least a tenth of what you spend in the outside decor or in your granite/marble restrooms and invested it in kitchen maintenance I would be humbly grateful.  Stepping on floor tiles and having last month’s mac n cheese with rice salute my feet is not entertaining.  Please remember standing water is a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, especially if located near the cooking line.  And most importantly remember no pets are allowed in the kitchen, and this includes those with six legs, and those furry four legged creatures are not related to Mickey Mouse so it’s alright to eliminate them.
“Hello”, is anyone listening?  These rules and regulations are in place for a reason, which is to stop the spread of disease and infection.

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