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This is a question Restaurants, Kitchens and Bars... Oh my!

Many years ago, I went out with a chef. Kitchens are merely vice dens with food. You couldn't move for people bonking and snorting coke in the store room. And the things they did with the food...

My personal vice was chocolate mousse - I remember it being very calming in all the chaos around me. I think they put things in it.

Tell us your stories of working in kitchens, bars and the rest of the nightmare that is the catering trade.

(, Fri 21 Jul 2006, 9:58)
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A word to the wise on food contamination and unsafe food-handling practices:
It's not just common, it is universal. Not only do restaurants contain a significant number of people who work there because it's the only class of business that hasn't learned better than to hire them, and who thus will take any opportunity to foul food production through ignorance or malice... but the food itself is generally universally-contaminated.

The grand majority of food production is automated - in harvesting giant machines are used, in slaughtering there are vast assembly-lines of dead animals, and anything processed has giant swaths of crap going out over a factory floor. At any point contamination can enter when there is either no person supervising the production or the person who is watching doesn't care.

As a result, no food regularly emerges from that mess to the consumer uncontaminated. Even the U.S. government, quite possibly the most ludicrously over-protective entity in the first world when it comes to food safety (they won't even let us have good cheeses made from raw milk over here - it's illegal), recognizes a percentage of contamination that it deems "unavoidable."

Acceptable Food Defect Levels (Opens in new window)

Insect bits in veggies, mold and rot in fruits, rat droppings in grains. All are common to the point of being ubiquitous.

Beyond this, every kitchen in existence fails very important bits of the health code. In culinary school we are taught two procedures for pretty much everything - how we are supposed to do things, and how everyone in the real world actually does them. This is because the health codes in themselves are rather over-extended, and cover things that most people would consider ludicrous because they were shown to be a vector for one incident of foodborne contamination. As a result, for those of you saying you'll only eat at home for the rest of your lives - your home kitchen would fail inspection for nearly every aspect of the commercial health and safety inspection.

For instance, how often do you wash your can opener? Health regulations say it must be washed every three hours when used, because every time you open a can you are transferring food particles to the blade of the opener... to then rot in open air, before being transferred back into anything else opened. Or how often do you clean out your ice machine? Restaurants are supposed to do so every other week in some areas to prevent contamination or the buildup of the cold-tolerant intestinal-bug listeria on old ice. And I'll bet there are cleaning products stored somewhere in the kitchen at your home as well - a clear violation of health codes due to a number of instances where people were served fried chicken battered with oven cleaner instead of flour due to their remarkable similarity in appearance.

The truth of the matter is, most cases of foodborne contamination occurs in private residences thanks to people who have a misguided belief that their food is safer if they or a friend cook it. These same people often have a frightening lack of understanding regarding proper cooking times or holding temperatures, and will generally cross-contaminate like mad between bacterial harbors and foods about to be served. Compared to what I have seen some of my own relatives do with their home cooking (namely, cooking a mass of food for lunch on holidays and then leaving it to sit out on the table at room temperature for eight hours before then coming back and eating the rest of it for dinner)... some guy getting his kicks by stirring urine into a giant pot of soup is nothing. Urine is sterile 90% of the time anyways, and in a large enough pot the actual contamination is miniscule.

You do have recourse should you fall ill after eating at a restaurant, though. It is commonly accepted in restaurant health and sanitation that more than two people independently coming forward with the same symptoms after eating at the same restaurant or supermarket constitutes a "foodborne illness outbreak." In my neck of the woods at least, that means the restaurant in question gets shut down for a week at minimum while the entire place is run over with a fine-toothed comb looking for what caused the illness to its patrons. It makes the news, costs the place business, may very well shut it down permanently, and if intentional contamination is found it will likely result in a criminal charge against the individuals involved. But the grand majority of the things talked about here are petty revenge. They won't convey illness, they won't even change the taste of the food, and so they have as much an impact on your day-to-day life as the 10 beetle bits per gram in your breakfast cereal.

Take solace in the fact that you're not the guy who feels so powerless and abused that he decides to add saliva to someone's burger as a measure of revenge - despite the fact that 99 times out of 100 it'll do absolutely nothing to anyone and that 1 anomaly could easily cost him his job. It's the culinary equivalent of swearing under your breath - it isn't even a confrontation with the people causing you grief, and in the long run it has absolutely no impact on anything other than giving you a bit of "revenge" for obviously having to do something you detest - make food for people.

Myself, the only bodily fluid I've ever added to an item of food to be served was blood. And since it was meat anyways, it was just more flavor in the dish - "long pig" was a delicacy in some parts of the world for ages, after all. But then, I got into culinary because I like cooking for people. Why people would bother getting into the profession when they don't is an eternal mystery to me - it's hot, humid, and dangerous with incredibly long hours to work and lots of chances to accidentally kill yourself or someone else in a dozen different ways. Which goes no small way towards explaining why most people in culinary will take any chance they get to break away and have a little fun.

Apologies for length and breadth of the culinarian rant.
(, Thu 27 Jul 2006, 19:40, closed)

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