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Unhygenic restaurant practices

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At one of my favorite local greasy spoons this morning and I notice the cook didnt wear gloves. I noticed the same a few weeks ago at a local pizzaria I have been going to since I was a child. In fact I saw the same towel being used to wipe hands, pull pans out of the pizza oven, and wipe the pizza knife/cutting board. it hasnt killed me yet right? Having worked in the industry for awhile, and being serv-safe certified, I know these arent safe food handling procedures. However, both occasions I made the conscious decision to not worry about it.

Anyone else ever grapple with these types of situations?

  1. If you've been in the business you know there are a lot more things going on that are "unhygenic" than those you actually see.
    Do you think servers wash their hands or use clean towels everytime they clean a table or pick up dirty dishes. Have you seen a employees touching their face, nose or hair with or without gloves then touching the food they prepare for you? Are the dishwashers or busboys washing their hands after taking out the trash then handling clean dishes and silverware?
    Do all the employees cover their face when they cough or sneeze around food?

    The list goes on, you can't worry about it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Forty years ago when I taught high school a lot of my students worked part-time in local restaurants and in their writing assignments often told of stomach-turning practices like spitting in the soup or blowing their nose into a customer's sandwich to express resentment of customer rudeness, poor tipping etc. I will add that about 25 years ago a well-known fast food place where I then lived was found to be the source of an outbreak of typhoid---nine cases as I recall---traced to an immigrant kitchen helper who was a carrier. For months I avoided fast food restaurants but then returned thinking that surely everyone would be extra-careful now. Not so. When I was in the ladies' room two girl employees used the toilet then exited to their workplace without washing their hands.

      1. re: Querencia

        Not so. When I was in the ladies' room two girl employees used the toilet then exited to their workplace without washing their hands.
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        I see that kind of thing a lot and hoping the employee has the decency to use the sinks in the kitchen to wash their hands.

        1. re: Querencia

          Your comment about the girl employees not washing their hands after using the restroom made me think. Whether or not they're employees they should wash their hands.
          It's just good personal hygene and maybe it has to start at home. Financial barriers have nothing to do with personal hygene, I've been at country clubs and seen multi-millionaires leave the restroom without washing their hands.

      2. Hi,

        This is rather timely for me...

        I'm on Week #2 of a kinda bad cold. Two weeks ago my son, DIL, I and their little one went to a deli for sandwiches. Three days later all four of us came down with the same cold.

        Anyone care to hazard a guess where we picked up whatever it was?

        Needless to say... I'm gonna be a bit standoffish when it comes to that particular deli in future.

        Maybe that's why I cook for myself darn near everything I eat.

        Lucy

        7 Replies
        1. re: I used to know how to cook...

          Isn't it possible that cold could have been picked up anywhere else besides that deli?

          1. re: I used to know how to cook...

            Lucy, i have to side with monku on this one - there's no way to know that you picked up the cold from that deli. grandchild could have gotten it at school or daycare, or one of the adults could have gotten it from someone at work, or on the bus, or a shoping cart handle at the grocery store...anything is possible. then whichever of you had it could have passed it along to the rest of the gang.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Normally I take such blame games with a grain of salt but in this case the poster said all 4 people who'd eaten at the deli came down with the cold simultaneously. That indicates that the deli - or something else they did together - was the source of the illness.

              1. re: greygarious

                Thank you, Greygarious, for your accurate read of my post.

                Yes, we all became ill the same day. The four of us weren't anywhere together other than the deli.

                That said, since I'm feeling a LOT more charitable today (that means I'm feeling better today...) I'll grant it could have been another customer rather than the deli staff.

                Lucy

                1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                  or the child you all kissed. or the friend whose hand you shook. or someone who touched the doorhandle. or the guy who sneezed as you exited the car.....

                  1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                    Colds are spread in many ways that have No connection to food prep. Geesh just being in a public place where others have been, you can all at the same time catch the cold that a customer passed on, on the door handle, napkin container, a sneeze.

                    To blame the food preparation and/or workers in not very valid.
                    I suspect you have a germ issue but not a good idea of how things spread.

                  2. re: greygarious

                    or something else they did together - was the source of the illness.

                    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    Is it possible as explained by goodhealthgourmet that someone caught the cold germs from somewhere else and they all happened to go to the deli maybe in the same car together and that's how they all got their colds?

              2. Gloves? I hate gloves.

                1. cooks do not have to wear gloves when handling hot food, they would melt!

                  I don't know if my friends/daughters/mom wash their hands, taste with the same spoon which goes back into the soup, blow their noses or sneeze over the food, take the trash out, feed the dog during prep, wipe the counter between raw and cooked food. We just went to a potluck super bowl party and I have no idea who made the food I ate - I presume I won't get sick.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: smartie

                    "cooks do not have to wear gloves when handling hot food, they would melt!"

                    thats just simply not true. cooks are required by local health code to wear gloves when handling "ready to eat food." (this can vary by city/state) Plus if a cook is touching something that is hot enough to melt a glove......well he/she has bigger problems.

                    1. re: joe777cool

                      Unfortunately at my favorite pizza place the guy who prepares the Insalata Caprese(without gloves) is the same guy handling the cash register.
                      I don't order the Insalata Caprese.

                      1. re: joe777cool

                        Why doesn't my favorite sushi chef wear gloves?

                        1. re: joe777cool

                          Gloves do a good job of protecting the glove wearer from catching something but that's about all. If I blow my nose into my gloved hand and then make your salad, I'll be safe but I'll have my doubts about you. Once again, it comes down to the training and how well run the place is. My son the chef washes up like he's going to perform surgery before he touches food - when he's cooking AT MY HOUSE - so I assume he does at least the same in his restaurant and insures that his cooks do the same. If I haven't died from some of my own at home practices, I feel I'm pretty safe almost anywhere.

                          1. re: joe777cool

                            FYI: In Los Angeles county, here are the regulations regarding gloves:

                            "Bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food should be avoided as much as possible. Food handlers assembling sandwiches, salads, or plating ready-to-eat food may contact the food with their bare hands but should use utensils as often as possible. "

                            http://www.lapublichealth.org/eh/fhgd...

                            This would explain why sushi chefs in LA County don't wear gloves.

                        2. It doesn't get worse than this... or funnier.
                          http://oldjewstellingjokes.com/post/2...

                          1. "Grapple" with these situations?

                            These are common day occurrences.

                            If I grappled with these types of situations, I'd also be grappling over the sun rising from the east, and how 2+2=4, and why water is wet.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              So if you see somebody, handling the food you are about to eat, do something unsanitary, you dont even think twice about it?

                              1. re: joe777cool

                                Well, it really depends.

                                But lets just take your examples as a starting point.

                                >> and I notice the cook didnt wear gloves.

                                So what? Wearing gloves for food prep is almost never de rigeuer in kitchens. Sushi chefs, deli counter folks, and just about every line cook I've ever met, has never worn gloves. And gloves arguably provide a better environment for germs to thrive in.

                                >>> In fact I saw the same towel being used to wipe hands, pull pans out of the pizza oven, and wipe the pizza knife/cutting board.

                                I dont' see the danger in this, esp. with pizza. You're not eating raw pizza are you? A quick couple of minutes in an oven at something like 500F will kill any bacteria they may have been present.

                                So, again, I ask. What's their to grapple about?

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  As I stated in another part of this post, I am talking about handling ALREADY COOKED/READY TO EAT FOOD. The cook touching my food, with his bare hands, using a soiled towel to wipe the knife and cutting board that both touch my pizza, no handwashing the entire time I was there, answering the phone, taking cash at the register. If you dont see any reason to worry about that then so be it, but from my training I know better.

                                  1. re: joe777cool

                                    Again, if this bothers you, I would suggest you stop eating at restaurants.

                                    It's just common practice at about 99% of the restaurants in the world. Sure, health inspectors and city officials can dictate certain practices and procedures, but they can't (and are not) around each and single moment food is prepared.

                                    Keep up your immune system, make sure your liver is healthy, and dine in peace.

                                    There's really nothing here to grapple with.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Stop eating at restaurants? thats a bit extreme dont you think? it would also we a bit hard considering I spend about 50 hours a week in one, usually 10-12 hour shifts. While I cannot speak for the entire world, you 99% figure is well off and I know this for FACT.

                                      And for the record, even with a healthy/normal immune system (which I do NOT have, btw) you can get deadly sick from cross contamination - which is the heart of what we are talking about right now. Remember the spinach e-coli outbreak a few months back? Apple Juice contamination? Hamburger contamination? These were on a larger scale but it all comes down to poor sanitation and/or contamination.

                                      For the record, I did eat at both restaurants, even after I saw what was going on......Im just trying to find out what other people do in similar situations.

                                      1. re: joe777cool

                                        For the record, I did eat at both restaurants, even after I saw what was going on......Im just trying to find out what other people do in similar situations.

                                        ___________________________

                                        I just don't worry about it. It's just something I cannot control.

                                        Shit happens in the back of the house when no one is looking. If I spent my time worrying about all the things in life and food that I have absolutely no control over, I'd need to be locked up in a padded room.

                                        Again, I see nothing to grapple with.

                                        (And, by the way, the spinach e-coli outbreak had nothing to do with restaurant practices, it occurred at the farm and at the production/manufacturing end, same with the apple juice issues.)

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          I agree, what I dont know wont hurt me and I really dont worry about that kind of stuff at all. But when its right in front of your eyes its another story ya know?

                                          In fact I have had people start to tell me bad things about my favorite restaurants and I stop them mid sentence. Ignorance is bliss!

                                          1. re: joe777cool

                                            I think we finally agree.

                                            Yes, if I see someone run their hands through their hair and then prep my deli sandwich, I walk away.

                                            But if I just hear about it -- ie these horror stories about what goes on -- I just take it with a grain of salt and move on.

                                            Having parents who owned restaurants growing up and having worked in them in high school and college, I've just come to accept the fact that bad things happen.

                            2. Personally I think the certification is a joke.
                              From what I see a certificate is issued to "one" employee for the whole restaurant.
                              Maybe, just maybe...that "one" employee knows and follows the rules...what about the other employees?

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: monku

                                You can call the certification a joke all you want, but its the local municipalities that decide how many employees in a restaurant are required to be certified. I know at least one of the companies I worked for required one serve safe certified person on premisis at all times, and that went far beyond what the law called for. "What about the other employees" - well thats all about training (safe food handling) and monitoring employees to make sure they are followed. This happens in many, many aspects of the business world.

                                1. re: joe777cool

                                  Certification is required in Los Angeles County. I see one certificate with one name on the wall. Don't tell me that one person is on the premises all the time.
                                  I'm aware that one person is probably responsible for the training and education of the whole staff, but in reality do you think that happens?

                                  If it did happen you wouldn't have started this post.

                                  1. re: monku

                                    "I'm aware that one person is probably responsible for the training and education of the whole staff, but in reality do you think that happens?"

                                    In reality I KNOW it happens. I have trained many many people on food safety. Most companies have workbooks, training videos, tests for new-hires they must pass the first day of employment. Now, there are good (companies restaurants managers employees) and there are bad just like every other profession. The two examples I gave earlier were mom & pops, where the owners were the staff. I dont know what type of food safety training they have had, but it may just be a case where they choose not to follow the guidelines.

                                    I cant speak for every restaurant, but in mine there are 3 certified managers. State code requires only 1 manager to be certified. Even then there isnt 100% coverage. Regardless, I feel confident that my staff is properly trained and applies that training in our absence.

                                    1. re: joe777cool

                                      That's my point...not everyone and every place is as conscientious as you despite training and certification.

                                      Despite your employees being trained I'm sure I could walk in your place and and find a few faux pas'.

                              2. Never understood how everyone from servers to Starbucks 'baristas' carry cups and glasses with their fingers over or otherwise touching the rims -- or why their managers allow it when it's so easy to spot (and clearly from lack of training - easy to correct).

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: iyc_nyc

                                  I don't think Starbuck's ever trained them on that "rim touching"...I see them doing it all the time...it's almost as if they do it on purpose.

                                2. there was a study cited in the NY time 2 or 3 or so years ago as i recall, that showed gloves were probably more unsanitary than hands....

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: thew

                                    Last kitchen I was in, I was chatting with the health inspector about gloves. He said he would rather see people washing their hands properly and frequently, than bad use of gloves.

                                    1. re: Sooeygun

                                      Why?, were they blowing up gloves like balloons?

                                      1. re: Sooeygun

                                        that is very true - a person wearing soiled gloves can be much much worse than one sans gloves that washes their hands frequently.

                                    2. The lesson: Avoid restaurants if you have a weak a) immune system or b) stomach.

                                      1. On bathrooms and washing your hands: Urine is sterile. I always wash my hands, but if someone takes a quick relief and doesn't was the hands, there's really no reason to get all worked up.

                                        I just expect restaurants to practice good hygiene within reason. That is, wash/clean things that have come into contact with raw meats, wash the fruits/vegetables and to wash hands after the other bathroom activity. Washing and changing gloves for registers, cash and what not is just plain inefficient.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: ediblover

                                          "Urine is sterile. I always wash my hands, but if someone takes a quick relief and doesn't was the hands, there's really no reason to get all worked up."

                                          Yeah, the urine is sterile but everything attached to the urine isn't so sterile.

                                          1. re: reatard

                                            your mommy needs to teach you how to wash better ;)

                                            1. re: reatard

                                              +1 because private parts never come in contact with anything unsanitary right?

                                              In Rhode Island, double hand washing after using the restroom is code. Once in the bathroom, once before you resume working.

                                            2. re: ediblover

                                              What what WHAT? (Channeling Cartman's mom). I'm worried about the bathroom stall lock, the faucet, the doorknob - just, ewwwww.

                                              1. re: ediblover

                                                urine is not sterile for long after it leaves the body.

                                              2. The things the OP pointed out doesn't bother me much.

                                                Other things do though- not washing hands after the restroom, picking noses, sweat dripping in food, scratching body parts then touching my food. If I saw those things, I wouldn't eat it. If I don't see it, all I can say is that it hasn't killed me yet -and I am sure many of those things have happened to my food.
                                                The Jack -in- the -box kid that picked his nose then put the fries in my bag... I just couldn't do it. I tried to tell myself that "it happens all the time"....I just couldn't do it. It all went in the trash.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: sedimental

                                                  Once a Burger King manager put my orders into a bag and then folded the bag over, turned to place it on the counter, and dropped it. She immediately picked it up and put it in the garbage... as I watched and was like, hey I don't mind a little dirt on the OUTSIDE of the bag, but too late, so I had to wait another few minutes for my order to get placed and filled again.

                                                  I know she didn't have any other choice but I was like, hey I'm not that finicky.

                                                2. I've worked in two restaurants, now. The first was awful-- we were small and struggling, so we would rarely have gloves available; our prep chef was Egyptian and his English was too poor for him to understand gloves; the teens I worked with would constantly do stupid things like handle raw chicken and then touch ready to eat food without changing their gloves. One young man with longish hair refused to pull it back or wear a hair net unless I was working with him, and even then he resisted, even after someone returned a sandwich with his hair in it. We went about a week without the owner letting us buy bleach or any sanitizer. We weren't allowed to throw out expired food until it was visibly disgusting. Just nasty.

                                                  I quit, it was so gross and poorly run... Luckily they are out of business now. I now work at a Panera, and the difference is amazing. Our policies on food safety are extremely strict and while you might get the occasional sweat in the food, not changing the gloves often enough, touching allergens and not changing gloves, etc issues we religiously wash our hands, don't wear gloves when we handle the food and the dishwasher sanitizes his hands after he handles trash before he touches your dishes. I've had to snap at a few of my trainees for stupid moves (coming to work with a really runny nose, wiping their hands on their dirty aprons, not checking expiration dates) but the food is always safe and clean, much safer than what I make at home by far. It does help that we don't have any raw meats in the place-- that seems to be the major oops area, meat cross contamination. I will say that convincing high schoolers of the importance of not cross-contaminating nuts, peanuts, seafood and soybeans with other stuff is pretty much impossible... I can tell all the "my fiance turned purple and swelled up like a balloon" stories I want but I still have to watch that they use the separate surfaces for peanut butter and don't touch the nuts.

                                                  1. With regard to wearing gloves, they are essentially useless in protecting customers from contamination, unless they are changed after each and every task. The only benefit gloves have is protecting the person wearing them from contamination. Otherwise, filth is filth, regardless if it comes off of someone's bare skin or off of a dirty glove.

                                                    Having been a paramedic for 20+ years, I see people wearing gloves all the time who have touched a patient, dirty surfaces, steering wheels, etc. without ever changing or taking off the gloves. Gloves are essentially a false sense of security if not changed frequently. Frequent hand washing is not only as effective as wearing gloves, I would hazard a guess that it is more effective, as somone could easily be more likely to forget the purpose of having the gloves on, and freely touch anything and everything because, hey, they are wearing gloves.

                                                    1. Having to wear gloves was one reason why I quit a job...

                                                      1. I have worked in a couple restaurants with questionable hygenic practice. 1st restaurant was very strict on wearing gloves at all times when food was handled, but lacked in pushing there employees to wash hands or not touch hair and etc. There kitchen/backroom was filthy all the time, disorganised and dangerous. Floors were constantly slipperly (I fell a couple of times!) and the floor around the fry/grill station was convered in oil all the time, no one bothered and we'd all treck grease and oil everywhere. I think I was more in danger than the customers!!

                                                        2nd restaurant was much better, but still no one really washed there hands (unless obviously covered in food) tied your shoes? picked up dirty plates? touched your nose? bathroom visit? nose picking? No one really washed hands!

                                                        In saying that, I did and do always wash my hands (just manners/taught at a young age to do so)...
                                                        No one has gotten sick though, no one ever complained and nooo one has died. At times it is so busy, there is no time for gloves or washed hands. I guess it's the way it goes if you want to trust other people with your food

                                                        1. Something that sort of goes unsaid is that when a restaurant gets busy, I'm mean like real busy, it is often difficult if not nearly impossible to maintain even the semblance of proper hygienic practices.

                                                          I once worked at a chain restaurant (which shall remain nameless) that was notoriously strict on their hygiene policies and rules, as well as overall food prep standards. They would have "mystery diners" come in radmonly just to test us on whether we were adhering to the strict letter of the law, and every single manager that was on duty was like a freaking nagging mother -- always telling us when we weren't doing something just e-x-a-c-t-l-y right.

                                                          But when it got busy, like during the weekday lunch hour rush, everything basically went out the window. It was just understood amongst everyone -- worker bees and managers alike -- that our first and foremost job was to get the food out and make sure the customers weren't left around waiting an inordinate amount of time.

                                                          If we ever got "shopped" by a corporate mystery diner during rush hour, we were screwed, and we knew it. But it was what it was.

                                                          1. There's a difference between best practices and acceptable practices. I agree with your conscious decision not to worry about these relatively minor problems.

                                                            As far as gloves go, I don't like 'em and worry about food-service establishments where the employees wear them. You're more likely to notice if you get something on your hand than on the outside of a glove, and therefore more likely to wash up. I'll make an exception for the person who's responsible for making sandwiches, clearing dirty dishes, and handling money - it just isn't practical to wash hands every 45 seconds, so gloves (replaced each time food is touched, of course) may be the best way to stay hygenic.

                                                            The side towel is a little more bothersome, but wouldn't rise to the level of causing me significant concern. Wiping a little grease or tomato sauce off an otherwise clean hand? Big deal. Wiping down the knife and cutting board would be an issue if there were significant sources of potential cross-contamination - if the guy's cutting up a raw chicken, then everything needs to be disinfected and the towel tossed in the laundry before any other food comes close. But if all he's doing is cutting up (very hot) pizza? Nah, I wouldn't worry about it.

                                                            By and large, the local health departments in the places I've lived tend to keep food in restaurants pretty safe. Not perfect, but generally not bad, either. And frankly, I'd rather take my chances with interesting food in a marginally-clean dive than eat boring stuff prepared by well-trained employees of a giant corporate chain.

                                                            1. You're probably exposed to more germs from the restaurant's other customers than from the staff. Door handles, touching diapered babies before handling chairs and condiment containers, etc. Do you put items, your bag, or clothing in the kiddie seat of the grocery cart, and think about what hands have been pushing it before you? Too much germaphobia in our world. Your immune system needs a workout in order to function properly; don't sweat the small stuff. We encounter pathogens all the time but have symptoms relatively rarely.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                                Thanks. Now I can't even go to the grocery store any more without worrying what I might catch.

                                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                                  +1

                                                                  I totally agree. I think the more you sterilize, the higher the risk is of getting sick because you are not giving your immune system a work out. I used to eat dirt, eat food off the floor and etc as a child, never got sick from it.

                                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                                    I generally agree, however there are some people who have to be a bit germaphobic, i.e. people who are immunocompromised.

                                                                  2. Recently I read that traces of e coli bacteria had been found on sliced lemons at certain restaurants. This was part of a study.

                                                                    Once in a chain sandwich place on my supper hour, the young man from behind the counter went into the bathroom, flushed and immediately walked out. He couldn't have washed his hands. I never went back. (Why do fast food places leave their places in the hands of HS school kids at night?)

                                                                    Recently at a small town HS reunion I noted that after we ate, the worker from the caterer used her bare hands to stack leftover buns. She touched her hair with both hands. Then resumed stacking buns. They were giving out the leftover after the reunion banquet!