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Chefs tasting food in unsanitary manner with fingers, prep utensils...is this acceptable?

My wife and I went to a new, high profile restaurant recently and were seated at the "chef's table", which was actually the counter in front of the open kitchen. While the restaurant is clearly still working out some service kinks, the food was decent.

What wasn't cool was watching the chef/owner tasting everything with the prep utensils or his fingers and then continuing to use those utensils, or his fingers, to prepare the food. My wife was freaked out, and finally said something to our server about it. This was not just hi-temp dishes like sauces, but we also saw him tasting dressings on salads with his fingers, then go back to prepping the salad.

We also noticed some of the line cooks tasting food with spoons held in water-filled pots, which were then just dumped out and refilled with water -- but not cleaned in any way.

This just seems unsanitary, and I remember seeing an episode on Top Chef when Tom Colicchio busted one of the contestants for doing pretty much the same sort of unsanitary tasting.

I can understand this is one of the drawbacks of an open kitchen, and that most guests would not have seen it, but should we say anything more? What would you do?

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  1. Chefs have been tasting food for thousands of years. Assuming he was clean at the beginning of the shift and has no transmissable diseases, no harm is likely to be done. But appearences count too, and some diners are squeamish. So an open kitchen should have higher *visible* standards.

    1. Best reason I've read for restaurants not having open kitchens.

      Far better to enjoy the food and not worry too much about how it's being prepared.

      1. Don't have any major phobias about this kinda thing but... EEWWW!!

        When cooking for friends/family, will admit to tasting more than once with the same spoon, tho I don't ANNOUNCE the move by any means.

        I came across a big package of plastic "soup" spoons at a yard sale. I have a bunch in one of those "French" water/jam glasses. Will use to taste something that's slow cooking... used spoon can get a bit gunky once cold. Also use to dip into salt container... especially if fingers are a bit damp. I just toss spoons into sink and run thru dishwasher to reuse.

        1. The water filled pots were probably sanitizer (water and bleach) that is what most restaurants keep their utensil and tasting spoons in.

          16 Replies
          1. re: LexiFirefly

            That's not correct; anything in bleach or sanitizer is supposed to be rinsed before using according to the health dept that inspect restaurants

            1. re: Cherylptw

              Health departments vary, where I live all food prep equipment on the line must be kept in a sanitizer solution, this includes whiskies, tongs etc.

              1. re: LexiFirefly

                I see you're in Canada...here in the US, utensils used to handle food on the line should not be sitting in a sanitizer, because it would have to be rinsed (or washed if it had bleach on it) first PRIOR to using. Now, dishes, etc. must be sanitized when it goes through the dishwasher or if if there is no dishwasher, there must be three sinks, one each for wash water, sanitizer, and rinse water. Regardless the method, they are rinsed before using.

                There also must be a container at all times with sanitizer (usually bleach water) to be used to wipe down counters and other surfaces which is required by the health dept also. But putting a tong or fork in bleach water then removing it to stick in a piece of meat or other food item or picking a tasting spoon out of bleach water and using it to taste something without rinsing that off first is digusting.

                1. re: Cherylptw

                  Anything in a bleach rinse should be air-dried before being used. So you would never remove a utensil from bleach water and use it, still wet, in food.

                2. re: LexiFirefly

                  I have never seen anything that has said things must be kept in bleach, and have never worked in a restaurant in Ontario, including at a culinary school restaurant, where anything was kept in bleach or sanitizer of any sort.

                  1. re: TeRReT

                    I worked at a place that got pinned by the health inspector for it. They alwayshave to find something!

                  2. re: LexiFirefly

                    In culinary school, we kept a big container of tasting spoons next to the range and used each one once. I've worked in a couple restaurants and they also only used clean spoons to taste foods before sending to the dish room.

                    1. re: mn_praline

                      Tasting spoons were only used once. Bit the egg spatula and stuff like that they wanted in there. Also this same health inspector once gave us an infraction for hollandaise being in the danger zone. She was nuts.

                3. re: LexiFirefly

                  So there's bleach in my food? Yuck.

                  1. re: Hobbert

                    It's a small amount that you use litmus strips to test how much. Too much is just as bad as too little. If you ever eat at a restaurant than yes bleach has touched everything, but it evaporates out.

                    1. re: LexiFirefly

                      Litmus strips are a PH indicator used to test whether a solution is acidic or basic. Here's some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litmus

                      1. re: Cherylptw

                        These ones are specifically for ammonia or chlorine to test how many ppm are in the water.

                      2. re: LexiFirefly

                        I'm skeptical. I worked in a deli when I was young and my sister managed a small restaurant. Both had utensils out and no bleach was involved. The place I worked actually had a bin that was hooked to running water so that the utensils (ice cream scoops in that case) we're being continuously rinsed off and no bleach was involved. I hate the odor of bleach and am pretty skeptical that I wouldn't detect it on my food.

                      3. re: Hobbert

                        So how do you feel about the chlorine that's in the water you drink?

                        1. re: Bkeats

                          I drink filtered water, but thanks for playing!

                      4. re: LexiFirefly

                        The water filled pots were only filled with water -- we saw them empty them out and refill them from a tap right in front of us. The dirty spoons & forks were put right back into the (new) water without washing them.

                      5. That's nasty & unsanitary; I don't even do this in my own home. I know of one chef in a restaurant near where I live who does the same thing...