Dining out requires a lot of trust. Trust that what you order will show up on your plate. Trust that the food in the kitchen is being held in sanitary conditions and at the proper temperatures. Trust that the person doing the cooking knows how to deliver a meal that’s clean, safe and hopefully delicious.
Some of that trust was broken last month, when the Southern Nevada Health District shut down Firefly’s Paradise Road location following a salmonella outbreak that’s affected at least 89 people and been called the worst in this region in a decade. The outbreak and the conditions that caused it are serious—the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has an entire micro-site dedicated to salmonella—but the local media’s portrayal of food-safety issues and restaurant inspections sometimes isn’t. Viewers and readers are often left to sort out the details, and the relative severity of the problem, for themselves.
SNHD spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore offers the Health District’s own website as an antidote to sensationalism, where reports are listed “without commentary or interpretation.”
“The public has gotten more savvy over the years,” she says, “but I think some of the things that look gross aren’t the things that make you sick. One dead cockroach means they probably sprayed their facility. One dead cockroach means they’re probably taking care of the problem, and they probably have a plan in place.”
If you want to see a real problem, the best place to look might be your own kitchen. “A lot of people still probably defrost their meats on the counter. People probably use the same cutting board,” Sizemore says. “I have pets, and you can’t have animals in the kitchen. Mine won’t stay out of the kitchen. Hand washing and all those sorts of things.”
With no threat of health inspectors banging down the door, our dining-room tables might be the most dangerous places where most of us eat. “You would hope that there would be a silver lining [from the Firefly outbreak], and that it would make people think about what they’re doing at home,” Sizemore says. “A lot of these infections don’t happen in commercial kitchens; they happen in home kitchens.”
Better safe than sorry
A snapshot of a few SNHD restaurant regulations:
Temperatures A calibrated thermometer must be used to monitor potentially hazardous food and ensure it maintains proper temperature.
Clear aisles Working spaces must be unobstructed and wide enough for employees to do their jobs without contaminating food or food-contact surfaces.
Raw animal products Must be kept away from ready-to-eat food to prevent cross-contamination.
Cloth towels May not come in direct contact with food.
Chemicals Must be stored separate from and below all food and food equipment.
Food preparation Potentially hazardous foods, like raw meat, have to be served the same day they’re prepared. No leftovers.
Ice If used for cooling, may not also be used for consumption.