- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Cheryle Jones Syracuse
Family and Consumer Science Staff N.C. Cooperative Extension
Brunswick County Center
In last week’s column, I talked about this being National Food Safety Education Month and some of the things restaurants can do to train their staff in food safety. That’s all well and good and I certainly support ongoing training for those who work in restaurants and the food service industry.
But what about those of us who eat out? Yes, we hope those restaurants we visit will do a good job, but there are some things we can do to be responsible consumers.
The Washington State Health Department offers some great safety tips for consumers for eating out. First off, they caution you to keep in mind that inspection reports represented by the certificates on the wall are just snapshots of the food handling practices at the time of inspection. The conditions may be different when you visit, but at least it’s a starting point for evaluating that restaurant.
Here are some other suggestions on how to protect yourself from foodborne illness when you dine out:
•Order wisely. For example, order your hamburger well-done and send it back if it is undercooked. If you are at high risk for foodborne illness, it is best to avoid certain foods, such as sprouts, unpasterurized juices, undercooked meats or eggs, and raw oysters. If you are pregnant, you should avoid soft French-style cheeses, patés, uncooked hot dogs and sliced deli meats.
•Read the menu and signs. Restaurants are required to notify you if certain animal foods are served raw or undercooked. These notifications are usually in small print at the bottom of the menu or on a sign. Don’t ignore these warnings. These foods may include raw oysters or undercooked meat, eggs, or fish. If you choose to eat these foods, you increase your risk of foodborne illness.
•Ask questions. Someone in the establishment should be able to tell you how your foods were prepared. This is especially important if you have a specific food allergy. If they are uncertain how something is made or the ingredients, order something different.
•Let your voice be heard. Tell the food service establishment’s manager when you notice food safety concerns or give a compliment to the manager when you notice safe food handling.
•Wash your hands before you eat.
•Stop eating if food tastes, looks, or smells bad.
•If you take home a doggie bag, refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible and within two hours.
•Report suspected foodborne illnesses to the local health department. They are an important part of the food safety system. Often calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks are first detected. If a public health official contacts you to find out more about an illness you had, your cooperation is important. In public health investigations, it can be as important to talk to healthy people as to ill people. Your cooperation may be needed even if you are not ill.
Everyone is at risk for foodborne illness, some people more so than others. Those at high risk include: infants and children under five, older adults over 65, pregnant women and their unborn babies, people with weakened immune systems (such as those with chronic illnesses, undergoing chemotherapy or have had organ transplants) and when traveling out of the United States.
Food safety education is important for everyone. Do what you can to protect yourself and prevent unwanted illnesses.
Source: Washington State Health Department.