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Regarding the recent e-coli outbreak on Long Island that caused the closure of at least 8 units and maybe more.....

Taco Bell may or may not being getting a bad rap here. The investigation is still ongoing as to the cause of the e-coli outbreak.

However, when 8 restaurants are closed because of an outbreak, something much larger is actually happening.

Should fast food establishments put more emphasis in the quality of their products over being cheap and fast? Or is being cheap and fast putting Taco's Bell's food items at a higher risk of exposure to harmful bacteria's?

Just wondering....

Eric

RestaurantEdge.com

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Cheap and fast is what Taco Bell and every other fast food restaurant has been doing all along, and it's been working pretty good for them so far -- it'd take a helluva lot more than this recent outbreak to make them rethink their entire business model... I mean, Jack-in-the-Box killed a bunch of people, and they're cruising along just the same.

I'm sympathetic towards those who eat that stuff due to financial, and time restraints (a close friend of mine happens pretty much to be the guy Carl's Jr talked about in their advertisements: "Without us, some people would starve) -- but hey, you get what you pay for.

Reminds me of one of Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons... Two shops -- one small, the other huge. The small one said "High quality stuff for the discerning customer" and the other, "Cheap junk for the masses" (or words to that effect). The little shop is empty, whereas there's a huge crowd of idiotic-looking Far Side-characters milling around in front of the big store, desperately trying to get inside...

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I wonder if there are statistics available regarding the relative safety of food from 1- fast-food/quick-service type places, 2- nice sit-down restaurants and 3- home kitchens. It seems to me that, obviously, fast food is the least nutritious and delicious, but that if all you care about is safety (as in, bacterial contamination and such) you'd probably just want to eat all your meals at places like McDonald's. After all, at such places most everything comes in the door frozen and is cooked to ridiculously high temperatures. There are probably also a lot of preservatives and preservative processes brought into play at every stage of the production and distribution process. Meanwhile, you go to a nice restaurant and there are hands touching everything, raw oysters, steak tartare, fish cooked to medium rare, etc. And home kitchens? Forget about it. Most home kitchens would fail every kind of sanitation inspection: foods defrosted at room temperature, slow cooling and holding at danger zone temperatures, cross-contamination of all kinds . . . .

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Those are very good points, but I can think of a couple of things that might affect those conclusions.

For one, apart from the fact that a home kitchen generally provides better quality, more nutritional, and cheaper food than junkfood, it is also operated by someone who genuinely CARES about the people who will eat the food. That's a big one -- would you rather eat a meal prepared by someone you know, who hopes to impress you, maybe earn a compliment or two, and who would be utterly devestated if you fell ill from their cooking? Or would you prefer it prepared by an unmotivated teenager? Easy.

Also, while a home kitchen might not pass the sanitary standards designed to keep fast-food workers on their toes, it serves only a few meals a day -- less chances of any slip-ups.

I guess my homemade/not-homemade ratio is somewhere around 50/50 at this point. I've been food poisoned four times, and none of those were from home cooking. None were from fast-food, mind you (Twice at crummy little "We're the only game in town"-restaurants, once from a sandwich stand, and once from a student's hall cafeteria).

That being said, I don't think e-coli is a good argument against junkfood. Ie., there are better arguments.

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While bacterial contamination is certainly an issue to be considered, the media tends to blow these things way out of proportion.

During the recent spinach apocalypse when some 200 people nationwide were sickened, it was believed, by tainted spinach, I saw an interesting article that noted that each year some 200,000 cases of e-coli related sickness are reported in the U.S. That's about 4000 a week. So, actually, the spinach and Taco Bell situations are well within the statistical norm. Given the amount of food that is produced, packaged, distributed, prepared, and consumed it's amazing how little food related illness there is and a testament to the quality of our food supply.

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I ain't ready to give up my Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap, No-Nacho-Sub-Shredded, Add Guacamole yet. They can have that when they pry it out of my cold dead hands.

This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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[W]ould you rather eat a meal prepared by someone you know, who hopes to impress you, maybe earn a compliment or two, and who would be utterly devestated if you fell ill from their cooking? Or would you prefer it prepared by an unmotivated teenager? Easy.

But this person I know is making a few dozen decisions, unknowingly, involving temperatures, hygiene, contamination, etc.; he could kill me without even knowing he was doing it. That teenager works for a corporation that has dummy-proofed everything and would have to make a conscious decision to defile my food.

And, of course, what teenager would ever do that sort of thing? But I digress.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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It's important to point out that it was not the prep at the restaurants that tainted the green onions, they were already tainted coming in the door.

Green onions are notorious for being carriers of pathogens. A few years back there was an issue with batches from Mexico being tainted with Hep A, which cannot be washed off.

Cheryl

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The latest New York Times report on this indicates that the produce in question probably came from California. It does seem beyond doubt at this point that food handling by Taco Bell was not the culprit, given that this happened across not only multiple warehouses but also two different distribution centers.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The New York Times piece I cited above says:

In recent years, the number of outbreaks from contaminated produce has far surpassed those from beef and poultry and has drawn nearly even with those linked to seafood, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group. While there are more food-borne outbreaks related to seafood, far more people get sick from produce outbreaks, the group found.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I wonder if there are statistics available regarding the relative safety of food from 1- fast-food/quick-service type places, 2- nice sit-down restaurants and 3- home kitchens. It seems to me that, obviously, fast food is the least nutritious and delicious, but that if all you care about is safety (as in, bacterial contamination and such) you'd probably just want to eat all your meals at places like McDonald's. After all, at such places most everything comes in the door frozen and is cooked to ridiculously high temperatures. There are probably also a lot of preservatives and preservative processes brought into play at every stage of the production and distribution process. Meanwhile, you go to a nice restaurant and there are hands touching everything, raw oysters, steak tartare, fish cooked to medium rare, etc. And home kitchens? Forget about it. Most home kitchens would fail every kind of sanitation inspection: foods defrosted at room temperature, slow cooling and holding at danger zone temperatures, cross-contamination of all kinds . . . .

There are some statistics available at the CDC but they do not necessarily give you the information you are looking for.

As an attorney who handles food cases where death, substantial hospital stay or post illness surgical procedure or organ transplant is or may be a necessity, I can tell you from my personal experience the majority of the cases I have handled originate from fast food restaurants. As for sit down restaurants I have had three cases of illness involving chain sit down restaurants, (42) cases from a high end restaurant related to an outbreak connected to one food source, 15 related to a dinners at two country clubs (again related to outbreak connected to one food source), a country club with poor food handling practices which improperly prepared a meat dish and a number of cases related to contaminated food sold by chain grocery stores. Of all the claims I have handled only two are related to how the food was prepared in the home, however the source of the illness was the meat that was consumed, which was contaminated but not properly cooked. Ground beef by Federal Statute should not have e-coli in it, period, so it is not a defense that the consumer did not prepare it correctly.

A substantial portion of my practice is related to food cases as described above. You will notice that I did not mention the local farmers market or local butcher as a source for food illness. In 10 plus years of handling this type of product liability action I have never even reviewed a claim relating to the sale of a food product where a farm market or local butcher was implicated as a potential source of illness. Why, well at my local butchers, I am lucky enough to have two near my home, the area where they break down the meat or poultry is spotless. They are passionate about what they do and take great pride in serving good wholesome food to the community. Hmmm, I guess factory production has a downside.

At least from my standpoint, I will not file a case, unless I can establish using onset time and sound epidemiology, that a defendant is the most probably source of the food that caused the illness. These cases cost in the tens of thousands of dollars and years to litigate so I only take cases where people get seriously injured.

From my experience the one nice high end sit down restaurant and two of the three country clubs that had sound food handling programs and they followed them. A fresh produce item where the parasite could not be washed off during the preparation of the food item sickened the people in those cases. The defendants responsible for paying damages in those cases because they sold a contaminated food product.

The remaining defendants tend to make a show at proper food handling practices. Sometimes there is a detailed food handling program, but no verification procedures, or oddly enough a detailed food handling program, with verification procedures that show they were not following their plan but continued on business as usual.

Other defendants just go completely off the reservation and only clean up their food handling practices after visits from regulatory agencies.

I have even had defendant’s claim, under oath they never had any violations or citations from governmental agencies, when I had in my possession the health department records that showed that mere days before they sold my client undercooked chicken that landed my client in the ICU the health depart had handed them a report of multiple violations and gave them 72 hours to come into compliance or be shut down.

These are the bad apples. Unfortunately there are many more than there should be and because people die or are maimed they grab the headlines. You don’t see a headline “Bob’s restaurant [a fake name here folks] celebrated 25 years of serving safe and tasty food today.”

I have on occasion run into a restaurant that simply had a bad day and sent a plate out when they should not have. Sadly, I can count them on one hand.

**************************************************

Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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

One summers evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless…Warren

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The New York Times has an updated article here that identifies the growing and processing chain for these particular onions. It seems to me that this could have happened to any restaurant, and happened to Taco Bell in particular as they use lots of green onions. A potentially spooky turn was this statement:

But for now, the foremost question was where the problem started. It is still unclear whether the green onions were contaminated at Boskovich Farms in California, where they were grown; at the Ready Pac Produce plant in Florence, N.J., where they were cut, washed and sanitized; or at the huge warehouse of McLane Foodservice in Burlington Township, N.J., which then distributed the vegetables and other ingredients to the Taco Bell outlets in eight Northeastern states.

Boskovich, which began growing green onions on its farms 40 years ago, provided the green onions that led to a hepatitis outbreak that began at a Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Pennsylvania in 2003.

The same farm that provided the Hepatitis A onions to Chi-Chi's provided these onions...

:shock:

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Fascinating. I wonder, though, whether litigated claims are much of a measure of actual illnesses. There seem to be a lot of questions of evidence, likelihood of success, a defendant who can pay, etc., that would tend to skew statistics derived from litigated claims as opposed to, say, hospital admissions. Also, once we know the raw number of cases from a segment, the first adjustment that would have to be made would be for number of meals served: how many meals are served by fast-food restaurants, sit-down chains, nice restaurants, other types of food service establishments, in the home, etc. Then if we had the number and nature of the verified cases from each segment we could draw some conclusions about risk. I mean, just as an example, if people cook 60% of their meals at home but 30% of foodborne illnesses come from the home, the home kitchen is relatively safe; if people eat 30% of their meals at home and get 60% of foodborne illnesses from the home, that's a different story.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This is an interesting statistic, though it is not documented in any way -- I have no idea where this government agency got it from:

as much as 60% of foodborne illness may be from home kitchens.

http://www.metrokc.gov/health/foodsfty/kitchensafety.htm

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I wonder if there are statistics available regarding the relative safety of food from 1- fast-food/quick-service type places, 2- nice sit-down restaurants and 3- home kitchens.

You make some interesting points, Steven. Like yourself, I have had the opportunity to see plenty of food preparation areas in your three categories. If I had to pick one as the cleanest of the three, it would be the kitchen of a well-run McDonald's. If I had to pick one as the dirtiest of the three, it would be the kitchen of a lowbrow to middlebrow sit-down restaurant. Sure, the kitchens at Per Se and ADNY look like operating suites on the Starship Enterprise, but the kitchens of $20 - $50 places are frequently appalling. And I don't know about you, but I never want to see the kitchen at, say, New Green Bo.

What makes the fast food places like Taco Bell much more dangerous from a food safety standpoint compared to a "Chez Annie's Basil Grill" is that Taco Bell is likely getting all their beef from one processing plant, all their scallions from one grower, all their sour cream from one dairy, etc. -- and they're storing it all in one place as well. So, if any one of these products or processors or storage facilities becomes a source of contamination, that contamination goes out to a zillion Taco Bell restaurants and a lot of people get sick.

One way to prevent this -- and if I were a betting man I'd put money on this becoming SOP within a decade -- would be for Taco Bell's storage and shipping facilities to incorporate irradiation capabilities. That way, all the scallions (for example) at the holding and distribution facility would be sealed in airtight plastic for transportation, and before they were released from the facility all the boxes of sealed-up scallions would be irratiated. That would go a long way towards eliminating a major potential contamination risk, and would have the added benefit of giving the food products a longer shelf life.

--

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I definitely agree about irradiation. It seems like it, or an equivalent technology, will have to be brought into play in order to take food safety to the next level. It's possible to make incremental changes within the current system, but widespread irradiation would be a quantum leap.

In terms of centralized distribution, it certainly exacerbates the potential scope of an outbreak. It's not unique to fast food places, though. It's the way the system works at every level except the farm-to-table fancy-restaurant/greenmarket/small-gourmet-shop level. I mean, Chez Annie's is probably getting its products from distributors like Sysco or US Foodservice, which aren't all that different than the distribution companies that supply the fast food chains -- indeed there's probably a lot of supplier overlap. Likewise, most supermarkets are getting their inventory through similarly organized channels.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I agree with Fat Guy and slkinsey that irradiation is likely to make a difference in terms of a safe product. And I'd be in favor of that.

But what about changing growing/processing/storing methods, not just for green onions but other foods as well, to make them safer? I wonder if irradiation might just be the latest food safety bandaid.

MelissaH

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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This is an interesting statistic, though it is not documented in any way -- I have no idea where this government agency got it from:
as much as 60% of foodborne illness may be from home kitchens.

http://www.metrokc.gov/health/foodsfty/kitchensafety.htm

I suspect we don't hear much about this because most home kitchens don't serve the general public, and once they do, they cease to be "home kitchens," strictly speaking.

My partner recently paid the price for violating Food Safety Precaution #3. He bought a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich at a local convenience store on Monday, and left it sitting out on the kitchen counter. He then ate the sandwich -- which had never been put in the refrigerator -- on Wednesday morning. Major distress ensued starting around noon Wednesday. It's a good thing there was someone staying with us at the time, for it would have taken me at least an hour to get back from Chester to escort him home from the toilet he was planted on.

I probably violate a bunch of these precautions myself because I'm not consistent in my practices, but I had been on his case about buying prepared foods like sandwiches or salads days before he plans to eat them: "It's not like you're going to be broke on the day you're going to eat it." However, a stint in the fridge would have avoided this incident.

However, the only three times I've gotten sick from food have all been after eating at sit-down restaurants, and on all three occasions, I had consumed seafood. Now I may be understating the incidence, for I have had mild to moderate diarrhea on several occasions, and those bouts are probably the result of some bug or other entering my system via lunch or dinner.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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If you caught ABC World News Tonight last night or Good Morning America this morning, you may have noticed an approximately five-second clip of me talking about this subject.

It was an utterly bizarre experience, talking to them on camera for about 45 minutes and then watching which few seconds they'd pick out of all that material and how they'd work it into their stories. On World News Tonight, I was referenced as "food safety expert, Steven Shaw," which has fast-tracked its way to being a permanent joke among my family and friends, and it seemed I was explaining why fast food is unsafe. On Good Morning America (those in the know call it "GMA," I hear), I was "Steven Shaw, an award-winning food critic and author" and it seemed I was explaining why fast food is safe. I'm in possession of hate email from folks who disagree with both positions.

The people at ABC are kind enough to archive their video clips online, so at least for the time being you can watch the World News Tonight clip here and the Good Morning America clip here (you will have to view a 30-second ad before the news clip starts).

Thanks,

Steven Shaw: food safety expert

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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There was an interesting study reported in 2004, conducted by Janet Anderson of Utah State University. She filmed 100 people preparing a meat entree and a salad at home. The people were told they were being observed for recipes, but the study was actually about food safety. Of the 100 people, as reported in Nutrition Action Healthletter:

* Less than half washed their hands before starting to cook. Of those who did, one in six didn't use soap.

* While food was being prepared, the typical hand wash averaged 4.4 seconds and didn't use soap.

* Six percent didn't wash their vegetables before handling them.

* 30 percent didn't clean cutting boards and other surfaces after they came in contact with meat, poultry, or fish.

* 82 percent undercooked the chicken and 46 percent undercooked the meatloaf. (Only one out of 20 checked for doneness with a thermometer. Everyone else used a knife, a different utensil, or another less-reliable method.)

* 24 percent failed to store raw meat, chicken, or fish on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator (to prevent any leaking juices from dripping onto other foods).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If you caught ABC World News Tonight last night or Good Morning America this morning, you may have noticed an approximately five-second clip of me talking about this subject.

It was an utterly bizarre experience, talking to them on camera for about 45 minutes and then watching which few seconds they'd pick out of all that material and how they'd work it into their stories. On World News Tonight, I was referenced as "food safety expert, Steven Shaw," which has fast-tracked its way to being a permanent joke among my family and friends, and it seemed I was explaining why fast food is unsafe. On Good Morning America (those in the know call it "GMA," I hear), I was "Steven Shaw, an award-winning food critic and author" and it seemed I was explaining why fast food is safe. I'm in possession of hate email from folks who disagree with both positions.

The people at ABC are kind enough to archive their video clips online, so at least for the time being you can watch the World News Tonight clip here and the Good Morning America clip here (you will have to view a 30-second ad before the news clip starts).

Thanks,

Steven Shaw: food safety expert

Nice job, Steven! I didn't find your comments to be contradictory in the least.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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