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Sanitation problems observed by customers


jgm
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Today at noon I was in a restaurant, waiting for a table, and I observed something that made me cringe.

The busboy, first of all, was wiping tables down with Windex. I'm under impression that Windex doesn't have the sanitizing properties that are required in a restaurant, but I could be wrong about that.

Then he accidentally dropped the rag on the floor, picked it up, and used the surface that had been in contact with the floor to wipe the next table.

My friend and I said "screw the hostess" and found our own table. We'd been waiting a long time, and we didn't want to get seated at the table I just mentioned.

I'm not comfortable that I allowed another customer to be served at a table I wouldn't have eaten off of, myself. That was a real screw-up on my part. And we were naughty to seat ourselves, although the place was full, we were next, and there were only a couple of tables open, which included the table in question.

It happened because I didn't know what to do. Insisting, no matter how politely, on seeing the manager, would have slowed us down even more, and as it was, I had a 1.5-hour lunch hour today. Not good. Telling the waitress may not get the problem stopped.

Do I call the manager now, or what? I want the problem stopped. I don't want the place to get into trouble with the health department.

Edited to also ask: What, also, should I have done at the time?

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ooh, what restaurant -- I don't wanna get that table, either.

I observed two roaches placidly make their way up the wall of a booth we were dining in, and when I called the server's attention to them, she just smiled and walked away. Didn't offer to move us, didn't offer us some bug spray or a fly swatter, didn't say "don't worry, they don't each much...". We don't eat there anymore. Which is too bad, because although there are plenty of Chinese restaurants where the cooks are Mexican, there aren't many Mexican restaurants where the cooks are Chinese.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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Let me say this as goodheartedly as I can: I think you are over-reacting. There are many worse infractions of the sanitary code than using windex and a rag that touched the ground to clean a table. Unless they serve your steak or fettucine directly on the table, what's the real harm? If they don't sanitize that rag after each table, I can't imagine it would be terribly clean, even without the visit to the floor.

Let me say that I am on the other side of the germophobe scale. Unless something has visible refuse on it, I'll eat it. Germs are good for us. :smile:

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"-Neil Young

"I think I hear a dingo eating your baby"-Bart Simpson

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Let me say this as goodheartedly as I can: I think you are over-reacting. There are many worse infractions of the sanitary code than using windex and a rag that touched the ground to clean a table. Unless they serve your steak or fettucine directly on the table, what's the real harm? If they don't sanitize that rag after each table, I can't imagine it would be terribly clean, even without the visit to the floor.

Let me say that I am on the other side of the germophobe scale. Unless something has visible refuse on it, I'll eat it. Germs are good for us.  :smile:

I'm in adegiulio's camp. I try to get a good dose of germs now and then just to beef up the old immune system.

Seriously, if something that you can witness in the dining room makes you queasy, then you might not want to eat in that restaurant at all. And by that I don't mean that the restaurant isn't clean enough for people to eat there, but I mean that your comfort level might not be suited to dining there.

I work in a restaurant where some groups of our clientele regularly ask for a cup of hot water, which I then provide, and into which they deposit their silverware, after they unroll it from our linens. Presumably, they assume that the process of putting our silver through a very hot dishwasher, then putting it through a second dishwasher, expressly for silver polishing, then polishing by hand and rolling it into clean linens isn't clean enough for them. Perhaps they assume that my hands, in particular, aren't clean enough for them to trust with silver that is going into their mouths. If that's the case, then I'd really love to tell them how silly that is, because I wash my hands far more often than our cooks do, trust me.

But then, that bit of information might be waaaay more than they need to know. :hmmm:

If questions about these sorts of sanitary matters really start to concern one that much, there is always the option of brown-bagging it, which fits rather neatly into even very short lunch breaks, while also ensuring that one never has to trust the cleanliness of other humans with ones food.

Edited by TheFoodTutor (log)
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Well, (I say with great trepidation)... this is clearly the last bunch of people I want to argue with. But...

It's often, to the customer, an indication of the level of sanitation that's been taught to the staff (if any has) and that's being practiced in the front and back of the house, though I have truly no delusions about what goes on in the kitchen. It's just that when restaurant workers are truly aware of all the rules of sanitation and cross contamination, they tend to behave one way in front of customers, and when people do what this busboy did instinctively, it can send a message that no sense of sanitation has been taught or practiced in this restaurant. I mean, it'd be a lot worse if your fork dropped ont he floor and he came by, picked it up, and put it back on your table, but in restaurants when workers instinctively take what's fallen on the floor and do not re-use it, it gives me the sense that they have some idea of what sanitation is (though I have no delusions about what probably goes on where I can't see it) - I'd like to think that in a real sanitary emergency, the staff would know what things are bad to do.

I was in a restaurant once that was out of glasses, and the waitress brought two finally that clearly was not the cleanest, or dryest they could be, and she explained that she had washed them herself, (though it would've been better if they were completely grease and stain free and didn't look as if she had done just that) - I'd like to think that restaurant personnel know that glasses and silverware are supposed to go through a dishwasher that heats to a particular temperature, and again, I always take this as indicitave of the restaurant's attitude as a whole about sanitation.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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If that is enough to make you cringe than you should really stay at home and not bother with eating out. I can't recall the number of times I've seen cooks pick food up off the floor and then sell it to the unsuspecting public. It happens all the time and, more than likely, you've eaten your fair share of it.

Worrying about the potential germ count on the tabletop is the least of your worries.

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It's just that when restaurant workers are truly aware of all the rules of sanitation and cross contamination, they tend to behave one way in front of customers, and when people do what this busboy did instinctively, it can send a message that no sense of sanitation has been taught or practiced in this restaurant.

That's a fair assessment, I think, and I don't think your opinion is unreasonable. I act on the same assumptions, sometimes.

There are a couple of incidents that led to my never returning to certain restaurants, because the things I observed seemed so unclean that it turned my stomach a bit. (Note that no roach sightings are among them, because I am fully aware that all restaurants have roaches, particularly in my regional climate.)

One time was at a Vietnamese restaurant where I ordered an iced coffee, which came with an iced tea spoon in the glass. When I pulled the spoon out of my coffee, I noticed that the spoon end was coated in some sort of green food matter, something that didn't come off when it was washed for whatever reason. I called my waiter's attention to the spoon, indicated that I'd pulled it out of my drink, and that the spoon was dirty. At that point, the waiter, who didn't speak much English, ran away from the table saying, "Dirty, dirty. . ." over and over again. That kind of freaked me out, so I didn't drink the coffee and I never went there again.

Another time, I was at some sort of a buffet restaurant, and there was a manager bussing the multitude of unbussed tables, piled with scads of dirty dishes, all around me. The manager had on a white button-down shirt which, after a short period of observing him, I noticed had a large, brown ring of dirty sweat stain - the sort of stain that takes numerous wearings to attain - encircling his waist just below his spare tire. I figured that, if the manager doesn't have a clue when it's time to change his shirt, especially when that particular shirt should have bypassed the laundry hamper and gone straight to the dumpster, then the rest of the staff probably wasn't too well-versed in cleanliness, either. And it was just a crappy buffet, anyway, so I never went back.

But, on the other hand, the sort of restaurants where all the employees very cautiously observe clean-appearing procedures in the dining room - such as using pristine marking trays for replacing silver, rather than carrying them in hand to the table - aren't necessarily any less germ-ridden than the fast food place down the block. People have a very strong tendency to trust any place that has white linen, for instance, but even the cleanliness of that linen, itself, is somewhat questionable.

It really all ends up being a matter of perception. Roll the dice and take your chances on who you choose to trust with your food. Or don't. No one says that you have to eat in restaurants at all, right?

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Well, (I say with great trepidation)...  this is clearly the last bunch of people I want to argue with.  But...

It's often, to the customer, an indication of the level of sanitation that's been taught to the staff (if any has) and that's being practiced in the front and back of the house, though I have truly no delusions about what goes on in the kitchen.  It's just that when restaurant workers are truly aware of all the rules of sanitation and cross contamination, they tend to behave one way in front of customers, and when people do what this busboy did instinctively, it can send a message that no sense of sanitation has been taught or practiced in this restaurant.  I mean, it'd be a lot worse if your fork dropped ont he floor and he came by, picked it up, and put it back on your table, but in restaurants when workers instinctively take what's fallen on the floor and do not re-use it, it gives me the sense that they have some idea of what sanitation is (though I have no delusions about what probably goes on where I can't see it) - I'd like to think that in a real sanitary emergency, the staff would know what things are bad to do.

I was in a restaurant once that was out of glasses, and the waitress brought two finally that clearly was not the cleanest, or dryest they could be, and she explained that she had washed them herself, (though it would've been better if they were completely grease and stain free and didn't look as if she had done just that) - I'd like to think that restaurant personnel know that glasses and silverware are supposed to go through a dishwasher that heats to a particular temperature, and again, I always take this as indicitave of the restaurant's attitude as a whole about sanitation.

Ditto!

I get plenty of germs without TRYING, thank you very much!

John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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Yeah...but. Going back to the original question, I would share the info with the manager. Based on the description of the restaurant, it sounds like it is a succesful and busy place. Anyone who manages a successful business knows that training is always an issue. The manager will probaby be apologetic, and hopefully take the info to improve the restaurant. Whether he/she does or not is irrelevant to whether you go back (see all of these posts above).

My favorite restaurants are ethnic hole in the walls - I don't mind the occassional roach (I scoot it toward a different table), the dirty fork (I wipe it off), the dirty glass (I use a straw)...and look at how I turned out! (Geez, good thing you can't see my third ear or shoulder twitch.)

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OK, for the record, I am well aware that restaurants aren't pristine places. Neither is my own kitchen. In addition to frequently visiting local restaurants, I depend on 4 cats and a dog to keep my germ-ingestion level nice and high. And it must be working, because I am rarely ill.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised at some of the responses on this thread. I am no germophobe, but wiping a table with a rag that's been on the floor, is well over the line. If a health inspector had observed it, the restaurant would have received some real dings in their rating. I doubt they would have closed the place down or anything drastic like that --nor should they-- but they would have gotten the management's attention. FYI, there's a reason that certain health laws are in place. They aren't arbitrary and they were written by people who have a thorough understanding of health issues.

Now back to the essence of my question. What is the proper way to deal with an event like that? Anyone who frequents restaurants is bound to encounter something like that, sooner or later. All I wanted to know, was how to deal with something like that without causing other diners or restaurant managers, or oneself, for that matter, undue stress. I just wanted to get the problem fixed.

It's often, to the customer, an indication of the level of sanitation that's been taught to the staff (if any has) and that's being practiced in the front and back of the house, though I have truly no delusions about what goes on in the kitchen. It's just that when restaurant workers are truly aware of all the rules of sanitation and cross contamination, they tend to behave one way in front of customers, and when people do what this busboy did instinctively, it can send a message that no sense of sanitation has been taught or practiced in this restaurant.

markk, thank you for an intelligent and thoughtful comment.

I did call the restaurant later, and talked with a member of the management. She was somewhat taken aback, and she didn't like what she heard. She promised to correct the situation immediately, and she thanked me for caring enough to call. I promised her I would return to the restaurant because I enjoyed the food so much. And I will, again and again.

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Well, now I guess it's time for me to press my luck.

I've told this story before on eG and have been told I'm crazy (which may well be for many reasons) but here goes-

There's a local restaurant that I love, and which has delicious foods. And the place is sparkling clean. If you're there at closing, you witness them scrubbing the place down to a degree that would please a surgeon, including the open kitchen. The owner is a good guy and really knows his business.

It's also an extremely friendly place, so when you walk in there, even in the height of cold and flu season, the owner, and all the wait staff come over to greet you and grab your hand to shake it and welcome you. Then they go to the pass and pick up the plates of dinner and serve them, passing on to the warm plates of food whatever germs they just got from whoever just came in with a cold or the flu and sneezed on his hands a minute before he entered the restaurant.

This drives me nuts. Does anybody agree, or think I'm out of my mind?

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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It's also an extremely friendly place, so when you walk in there, even in the height of cold and flu season, the owner, and all the wait staff come over to greet you and grab your hand to shake it and welcome you.  Then they go to the pass and pick up the plates of dinner and serve them, passing on to the warm plates of food whatever germs they just got from whoever just came in with a cold or the flu and sneezed on his hands a minute before he entered the restaurant.

Hmmm. I always wash my hands after every time I:

- Eat something.

- Touch my face.

- Use the restroom (of course).

- Shake hands with someone.

- Drop off dishes in the dish pit.

- Touch anything that might be questionable in any way.

Basically, as a server, I wash my hands more times than most people would even think about washing their hands in a single day. I wash my hands far more frequently than the cooks in my restaurant do, as I mentioned before, and I wash them just barely out of the gaze of the customers, as the handwashing sink is just around a corner, and it only takes me a half of a minute to do it (or the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself, twice, as per my ServSafe training).

It seems as if it's possible that A) The FOH staff you speak of may, actually, be washing their hands between shaking hands with guests and delivering food to tables, but it is done out of sight, so you aren't aware of it or B) The staff isn't washing their hands because, in that particular restaurant, it isn't convenient or common practice to do so.

The latter is something that I find especially crappy about working in restaurants: When you work for an independent, as opposed to a chain, even if you're working for an upscale, upmarket, fine-dining independent, handwashing sinks are usually not as prevalent, and a lot of the facilities are much more haphazard. Chain organizations do absolutely everything according to code, which makes it far, far easier to follow health regulations. Fine-dining independents get a lot of slack from Health Inspectors, in my experience, in comparison to chains, who are expected to follow the law to the letter.

Definitely an ironic trade-off, if one is germophobic, but also a foodophile. My own observations may not be standard, outside of the bits of the industry that I've observed, just to qualify the statements I've just made.

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It seems as if it's possible that A) The FOH staff you speak of may, actually, be washing their hands between shaking hands with guests and delivering food to tables, but it is done out of sight, so you aren't aware of it or B) The staff isn't washing their hands because, in that particular restaurant, it isn't convenient or common practice to do so.

They're very definitely not washing their hands. It's a tiny place and they're in full sight the entire time - they never even go into the kitchen because the food comes out through a pass between the kitchen and the dining room - except if one of them ducks into the bathroom (in plain sight) at some point in the evening for personal business (when I hope they're washing their hands), they don't, certainly not inbetween shaking hands with arriving customers and serving plates.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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It seems as if it's possible that A) The FOH staff you speak of may, actually, be washing their hands between shaking hands with guests and delivering food to tables, but it is done out of sight, so you aren't aware of it or B) The staff isn't washing their hands because, in that particular restaurant, it isn't convenient or common practice to do so.

They're very definitely not washing their hands. It's a tiny place and they're in full sight the entire time - they never even go into the kitchen because the food comes out through a pass between the kitchen and the dining room - except if one of them ducks into the bathroom (in plain sight) at some point in the evening for personal business (when I hope they're washing their hands), they don't, certainly not inbetween shaking hands with arriving customers and serving plates.

Well, then, I'd probably avoid eating there during cold and flu season.

Restaurant employees get sick more often than the general populace for a reason, and I'm sure you don't want to share in that phenomenon, right?

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Wow, It's unbelievable how phobic some people are about microbes, really now , do you people live in plastic bubbles?

First off, the only surprise about a busboy using windex is that he's using anything at all. Most managers would yank the stuff out of his hand and chew him out about the expense, every restaurant I've ever worked in uses soda water for wiping down their tables. Remember people, they're just cleaning the table of debris not sanitizing

!

Secondly, no Health Inspector would have dinged them anything if he had seen it (although he may have suggested replacing the towel) because no infraction took place, and yes I do have a current Health Department Certification (state of Illinois) so I do know what I'm talking about. Clean and Sanitary are two very different things and restaurants are required (quite reasonably) to sanitize only food contact surfaces, which would not include your table top, unless of course you were considering dining sans plates.

And lastly, keep in mind this fact before you start laying awake at night with thoughts of little Disneyesque cartoon germs dancing through your head, the world is a very germy place, in fact, they're everywhere.

You're body is crawling with them as you read this. You're computer keyboard is covered by a film of them as you type your response, and every time you breathe, you're drawing millions of them into your body.

Shake hands with someone? Germs! Talk to someone? Germ Exchange!

Had the busboy taken your table and boiled it in raw bleach before seating you, it would still have been re-contaminated in mere moments by airborne bacteria, yeasts, and other little nasties that live in the carpets, the walls, even the clothes you wear.

Still think you should complain? Go right ahead. The Manager will probably pat your hand and express his concern with his most ingratiating manner and his smarmiest smile, and all the while he'll be thinking to himself "Oh Lord, why do I get all the knuckleheads?"

I'm so awesome I don't even need a sig...Oh wait...SON OF A...

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The only time I can recall drawing the line because of fear of germs, was last summer while standing outside of my destination, reading the menu in the window before stepping in. I just happened to observe the person checking the table settings pick up a fork, see a spot or smear or something on the tines, lick her finger, rub at the fork, and put it back on the table. I never worry about eating in 'dirty' restaurants if I'm wanting something authentic; I don't worry about food falling on floors, etc; but I've never been back to that lovely little french place. I kinda miss it.

Sharon Regehr

Maple Hill Farms

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Shake hands with someone? Germs!

I'm not naive when it comes to germs and the real world. On the other hand, I do want to ask you a question, given your certification and obvious knowledge. You meet somebody who's obviously got a bad cold or flu and sneezing constantly into tissues in their hands, and after the introductions, they reach out and shake your hand. Do you make some effort or mental note to wash you hands before you eat, or touch them to your face (for any reason), or prepare food? Or do you just decide that's for the germ-phobics and go about your way?

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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  I just happened to observe the person checking the table settings pick up a fork, see a spot or smear or something on the tines, lick her finger, rub at the fork, and put it back on the table. 

Nasty!

KathyM

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I once watched a young couple change their baby's diaper on the table of an upscale Asian fast-food type place. I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. But there they were. I can't begin to wonder about the cleanliness of their own home.

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When it comes to germs I'm more fearful of hospitals, airplane interiors and buses than being at a restaurant...unless it's a gamey roach house with mildew decorating.

I live in Los Angeles County we have a letter system for health inspections. I'll eat at a B restaurant but not a C. I only had food poisoning once and got it from an A graded restaurant. If something is out of sorts I can always leave but I won't get phobic about it. I can't live in a bio-bubble.

Edited by Susie Q (log)
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Shake hands with someone? Germs!

I'm not naive when it comes to germs and the real world. On the other hand, I do want to ask you a question, given your certification and obvious knowledge. You meet somebody who's obviously got a bad cold or flu and sneezing constantly into tissues in their hands, and after the introductions, they reach out and shake your hand. Do you make some effort or mental note to wash you hands before you eat, or touch them to your face (for any reason), or prepare food? Or do you just decide that's for the germ-phobics and go about your way?

This actually gets at a larger issue. Restaurants generally do offer paid sick days and usually have little staffing flexibility, so people on the verge of death by TB drag themselves in and spend their whole shift germing up the place. Flue season is no time for the germ-sensitive to be dining out.

Also, during a busy shift, most floor staff are not going to dash back to the restroom just because they shook someone's hand. I'm not saying they shouldn't, I'm just saying with 80 other things going on, their first instinct is not to leave the floor unless they have to.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I'd be more worried about all that windex everywhere than bacteria.

Thank you! I'm allergic to Windex, so I hate it when they use that (or Fantastik) in my presence. Mopping floors with something containing ammonia is also awful. :angry:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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