Dining Out in the New Year

Another year is over and 2016 is beginning. New Year's resolutions are made, started and already broken. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 75 percent of resolutions are maintained through the first week of the new year. Most people try to ease the guilt from their gluttonous indulgences of the holidays by being healthier in the New Year (my self included).

It’s a cycle of "I’ll go to the gym," or "I’ll cut out alcohol, carbs, fats, GMO foods, foods dyed blue ... " and the list goes on. Instead of worrying about how many calories are in that iceberg saladhold the dressingshouldn’t you also worry about the cleanliness of the fork you're using? The health standards of the establishment you choose to dine at should also be a part of your health conscious efforts.

Photo courtesy of Chel Howard.

The obvious place to start should be the restaurant's health rating. This is typically a piece of paper that looks like a standardized test. At the top should be a numerical grade along with a letter grade. It should be displayed openly near the front entrance or where patrons can easily view it. If it’s not, ask a server or employee if you can see it. If they get flustered or refuse to show it, there could be a problem. We all have standards when it comes to our food. I have known people to not eat somewhere with a health rating lower than a 90 and some who didn’t care what grade a restaurant had.

Image courtesy of dekalbhealth.net.

Cleanliness and health ratings go past a number on the wall though. People learn from an early age to wash their hands after using bathroom facilities. Often in the media when a food-born illness outbreak occurs, not washing hands is where the focus points. Yet in the food industry, washing your hands after using the restroom, between food preperation and plating, and from touching meat to veggies is also required. Gloves can be worn, but are supposed to be changed in place of washing hands, aside from the restroom instance where washing hands is a must. The FDA actually emphasizes a “No bare hand contact policy” with food to prevent food borne illness. Click here for a full PDF of the guidelines. 

Is this done? Ask anyone in the food industry if this happens, and if they're honest, they’ll say no. The cost is too high to change gloves that often. If you say "just wash your hands" they’ll say "not enough time" or they "forget." I have worked in a cafeteria, two restaurants and a juice bar and I can tell you the restaurants were the worst with this policy. At one restaurant I felt like I was the only one washing my hands a dozen times during a shift. Even the food expeditor would only wipe their hands on a sanitized towel. That towel would be used for the whole day to clean up spills on the line or to clean up a sloppily plated plate.

A common fear of many people is if they're rude to their server, their food will get spat on. Truthfully, unless you have a demon spawn from hell as your server, your server cares more about their pitiful $2.13 an hour paycheck plus tips than settling a score with you. What people should care about is if the plates and silverware were properly cleaned with soap, sanitizer and steam instead of bleach. You should also care if the soda fountain and its nozzles were properly disassembled and cleaned. If this is not done routinely, a black gunk accumulates on the soda fountain nozzles that is equivalent to putrefied toe jam.

Image courtesy of sodadispenserdepot.com.

In America, it’s uncommon to buy groceries everyday to make a meal and you can bet restaurants that make 200 plus meals a day don’t either. Food is often packed full of preservatives. This is true in grocery stores as well as restaurants. The FDA has made sure that preservatives make up a huge chunk in the food pyramid in today’s world. These preservatives help lower food costs not only for restaurants but also for consumers so that unused products aren’t being thrown out daily. I’m not condemning being thrifty but it pays to know what you’re eating.

In the world of restaurants the customer is king. The employees of most establishments will bend over backwards to accommodate any minute request. At times, this can eat into profits. Restaurants will cut corners to make up these costs. These corners are for the most part harmless and only disturbing to a few in the know. One corner that is cut often is reusing items. These items can include individual packets of condiments that are unopened. That breadbasket that everyone fills up on before the food arrives, check the butter. It could have been in someone else’s basket the day before and wasn’t used. Bread can be recycled into croutons. That Brunswick stew or beef stroganoff for the day’s special, it was yesterday’s special of flank steak or beef tips.

If you're health conscious, the old adage of you get what you pay for should also apply to what you eat. If you want top quality, local, fresh, organic, non-GMO or Gluten-free ingredients, be prepared to pay. Not necessarily through the nose but definitely through your wallet. If your preferred dining spot cares enough and takes the time to research, source and at times physically go get the ingredients, don’t balk at the price when the bill comes and certainly don’t take it out on your server’s tip! These are just a few things to keep in mind when you go out to eat in the new year.

 Photo courtesy of Chel Howard.