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Are Ethnic Restaurants and Markets More Hazardous Than the Standard American Food Establishment?

Sep 4, 2008
Many large cities across the U.S. and other western countries are home to diverse ethnic groups. Los Angeles County, where I live, and especially southern California, is literally home to every ethnic group of people in the world. There are pockets or neighborhoods of different groups of people throughout. Most of these neighborhoods are filled with restaurants and markets selling their foods and dishes as they were prepared in their homeland.

These business have provided a challenge to the local government food inspection agencies. These agencies are responsible for assuring the food, the storage and preparation processes and the facility itself meet the standards for proper safety, sanitation and prevention needed to minimize the chance of food poisoning or food borne illness.

Ethnic restaurants and markets in the U.S. run the gamut of food safety and sanitation. I have seen and inspected each extreme and everything in between. The only real conclusion I can make about these types of facilities is that the restaurants and markets inside the pockets tend to have lower scores or greater numbers of high risk violations. These owners and operators are more likely to be first generation or recent immigrants. They may therefore be unfamiliar with U.S. and western standards for food safety and sanitation, and unfortunately more set in their ways. Also, there is the sense or feeling that they need to maintain a level of authenticity in order to keep their business or customers.

A very good example of this occurs in the city of Monterey Park in Los Angeles County. This city has a very high concentration of Chinese residents and Chinese food facilities and there is a lot of competition amongst the businesses. Los Angeles County has a grading system which requires the retail food facilities to post a grade for the public. The business owners and operators tend to look at a lower grade such as a "B" as a badge of honor and an indication of their food being more genuine or authentic.

Here are statistics on the grade breakdown comparison for the city of Monterey Park versus all Los Angeles County for restaurants for the recent fiscal year ending June 30, 2008:

All Los Angeles County
"A" Grade: 82.7%
"B" Grade: 15.2%
"C" Grade: 1.8%
Less than C Grade*: .3%

Monterey Park
"A" Grade: 41%
"B" Grade: 51%
"C" Grade: 7%
Less than C Grade*: 1%

*A number score is issued and posted in place of a grade for anything less than a "C" or 70 score.

What stands out is the higher percentage of "B's"s and "C's" compared to the County as a whole. As I mentioned, this is not uncommon in heavily homogenous ethnic neighborhoods. I would guess this is probably common throughout the U.S. and other countries with large concentrations of immigrants coming from countries with lower standards for food safety and sanitation.

I am certainly not advocating that you never patronize these areas or restaurants and markets, but only that you be extra vigilant and use your senses in avoiding those potentially more dangerous establishments and situations.

Lastly, from my experience (and I have no numbers to prove this) ethnic restaurants and markets outside of the pockets tend to follow the pattern for grade distribution for the county as a whole.
About the Author
Michael 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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