The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year food-borne disease causes nearly 50 million people to become sick, 128,000 to be hospitalized and 3,000 to die. More than half of these outbreaks originate in restaurants and delis, so the CDC sent health inspectors to local and chain restaurants in 10 states -- California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Iowa, Rhode Island and Tennessee. The results are out this month, and while Texas wasn't among the surveyed states, the findings are enough to give anyone pause before ordering out. Mother Jones has boiled the results down to a stomach-twisting little list.
The CDC's report shows that a startling number of restaurant kitchens don't practice very basic steps to ensure that their food is sanitary. For example, according to interviews with 448 kitchen managers, 40 percent of the restaurants surveyed did not use separate cutting boards for raw chicken. Only 194 knew the FDA-recommended temperature for cooking chicken (165 degrees Fahrenheit). About a quarter of the managers underestimated the temperature, 33 admitted that they didn't know and, as Mother Jones points out, one actually guessed 90 degrees, which is cooler than the human body.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The situation with beef is equally grim. Beef that is raw or undercooked (155 degrees Fahrenheit) has a high chance of spreading E. coli. Out of 385 restaurants that cook burgers, only 190 managers said they used a meat thermometer to tell if a burger was cooked, instead relying on color and feel. The CDC found 12 percent of the burgers they tested were undercooked. What's more, out of 192 restaurants where employees handle raw beef, employees at 119 of them do not wash their hands after touching the beef before handling other cooked food.
Vegetarians don't have it much better. Leafy greens are supposed to be shipped at a temperature of 41 degrees to prevent the growth of germs and bacteria. Out of 37 shipments, only half were delivered at that temperature. On the upside, two-thirds of managers surveyed said they have rejected shipments of leafy greens that weren't shipped at 41 degrees. So, go salads.
Finally, you should keep in mind that most restaurants don't offer sick leave for their kitchen staff. Of the 491 food workers interviewed half said they have worked while sick, because taking time off wasn't an option. Twenty percent of those same workers admitted to vomiting or having diarrhea on at least one shift in 2012.