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Good Practices to Follow When Deciding What to Order to Minimize Food Poisoning Possibilities

Aug 28, 2008
Certain foods and processes are inherently more dangerous when ordered at a restaurant. For anyone that has experienced the pain and debilitating effects of a food poisoning, knowing how to identify higher risk foods and processes when deciding what to order is a valuable resource. This can be especially important if there are other questionable signs at this establishment (see food poisoning prevention web site address below to learn more).

Here are things to consider when sitting down and looking through the menu, deciding on what do order:

--Order foods or dishes that are mostly made-to-order. This means most of the processing and especially the cooking of the main part of the dish (the meat, chicken or seafood part) is done after it is ordered. If is not clear on the menu then ask questions. From mine and others experience, temperature abuses or violations are more likely to occur on foods that the cooks are attempting to be kept warm in a steam table or warmer unit than a refrigeration unit. Because of these concerns many restaurants are focusing nowadays on more made-to-order dishes.

--Stick with ordering foods that you are familiar with, either because you have had it many times before or you know how it is prepared, and thus know what the dangers or dangerous signs might be. You are more likely to spot an out of the ordinary appearance, taste or smell.

--Know the minimum cooking temperatures of the meat and seafood products you like (search the USDA web site for the minimum cooking temperature chart)and make a request that the food be cooked to at least this temperature. For example, when ordering a hamburger, ask for it to be cooked to an internal temperature of no less than 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a very reasonable request.

--Avoid raw or rare meats, eggs and seafoods! I know for those of you who love sushi, sashimi, raw oysters, rare hamburgers, or the many raw egg sauces (hollandaise, bearnaise etc.) this is blasphemous. But the fact is that normal cooking kills most, if not all bacteria, viruses and parasites. You are at a higher risk of becoming ill, and in my opinion playing with fire, if you consume these types of raw or rare foods.

If you are the type of person that just can not imagine life without these more risky raw or rare foods, but still have at least a partial concern for food safety, all is not lost. I suggest the following:

--Regularly review and investigate the restaurants' inspection and violation history. Look at previous inspections for temperature violations and request inspection histories. Look in the inspection histories for food-borne illness investigations. If a member of the public or a doctor reports a food-borne illness case to the local department of public health and it appears to be legitimate, a special type of inspection will be conducted. This inspection is generally known as a food-borne illness investigation and will be recorded in the facility's inspection history. This type of inspection will not always be made public such as on the website, but it is part of the inspection record and is thus public record.

--Familiarize yourself with the sources of the type of seafood you like and the dangers that come from that part of the world, or are common or endemic with that particular fish or shellfish. If the menu does not state what the source of the seafood is, ask to see the invoice and write down the business name (it could be the distributor or packer). For example, Gulf of Mexico oysters are more likely to cause illness because they come from warmer waters where certain pathogenic bacteria are present at dangerous levels. Therefore, it is more risky to eat raw gulf oysters than northern pacific oysters where the waters are much colder and provide a safer environment from this bacteria. Contact your local city or county Environmental Health Food Inspection program or the state or federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to determine if the business is a legitimate licensed facility to sell or distribute the seafood.

--Investigate the training that your restaurant chef received. Look for or ask about food safety certificates, degrees etc. There is the internationally renowned California Sushi Academy which advertises itself "as the first vocational school specializing in the training and certification of sushi chefs." Any advanced training beyond just on-the-job training is a positive.

Doing this bit of research has never been easier. Many local public health programs now publicize the inspection results on the internet as well as require food facilities to post inspection grades, scores and even make the inspection
About the Author
Mr. Doom has worked as a Environmental Health Specialist for more than 20 years. He has conducted thousands of inspections and educated more than a thousand, food facility owners, managers and employees on food safety, and how to prevent food poisoning hazards. To learn more visit http://www.FoodPoisoningPrevention.com.
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