Bloomberg’s Alphabet Soup: Is NYC’s Letter Grading System Any Good?

This week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a report on the successes of New York City's restaurant grading system. The mayor attributes the reduction in Salmonella illnesses and a 9.2% increase in restaurant revenue to the letter grading system. NYC isn't the only place posting inspection results where the public can easily find them. Health departments all across the country are trying to develop new, innovative, and cutting-edge ways to disclose inspection results. Many health districts simply post inspections online and let the public access the information and decide for themselves. What becomes more difficult is when health districts decide to add grading and ranking to the mix. By … [Read more...]

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Norovirus Rules the High Seas

I've never been on a cruise, but my mother loves them. The idea of living in a confined space with 3,000 other shipmates for an extended period of time scares me. So when I see stories about the recent tragedies with the Costa Concordia and Costa Allegra, my fears seem justified. These tragedies, however, overshadow another problem that the cruise industry deals with every day—Norovirus. This stowaway has been wreaking havoc on cruises for decades. The CDC estimates there are 20 million cases of Norovirus every year resulting in 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths. The symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramping. Most people will be sick for only a couple of days, but … [Read more...]

Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint, Part 4: Outbreak

It's unsettling to think that food served from a restaurant can lead to hundreds of people getting ill and possibly dying, but it happens more often then we would like to admit. It can be the result of untrained or sick employees, serving contaminated products or an overall lack of respect for food safety. A restaurant's involvement in an outbreak can be devastating. It often starts with 1 or 2 phone calls from sick customers. This doesn't seem too alarming since complaints occasionally come from customers, but nothing ever resulted in a confirmed foodborne illness. However, in an outbreak, there could be more calls coming into the health department at the same time. The health department … [Read more...]

Sproutrage 2012: Do Raw Sprouts Belong on the Menu?

  The recent and prolific sprout outbreaks that have plagued Jimmy John’s customers have certainly caused a stir in the restaurant community. Should sprouts remain on the menu? Jimmy John’s, Jason’s Deli and Erbert & Gerbert’s Sandwich Shop apparently all pulled raw sprouts off the menu because of these recent outbreaks. Wal-Mart made the decision in 2010 not to carry them. Should all food establishments follow their lead? Sprouts and Foodborne Illness Sprouts have a long and rich history with foodborne illness (http://bites.ksu.edu/sprouts-associated-outbreaks). Racking up 55 outbreaks in 14 years, sickening 15,000 and killing dozens makes them quite formidable. However, there are … [Read more...]

Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint, Part 3: Confirmed Cases

If you have a customer with a confirmed foodborne illness, the local health department will probably visit you. A case is confirmed when a stool sample from an infected person is cultured and the harmful bacteria is found. This process can take a few days. When there is a confirmed case, the health department is contacted and they begin an investigation to try and determine the source of the infection. Many questions are asked of the infected person, including about where they ate. If there are restaurants involved, they will look at the timeline and try and guess which ones could be the source. Some can be ruled out, and others may need further investigation. This may lead them to your … [Read more...]

Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint, Part 2: False Accusations

  How do you spot a false foodborne illness complaint? Oftentimes, this can be very difficult to see. There are generally two main types of false complaints—one from someone who is really ill but didn't get sick from your restaurant and one that comes from a dishonest customer who just wants to extort money. Make sure you ask the right questions. Use the Foodborne Illness Report (also found in the Manager's Toolbox) to help you, and look for the signs. There are some common signs, and a fair amount of research may need to be done before you can make the determination that a claim is false. Common Signs of a False Foodborne Illness Complaint The signs listed here aren't true in every … [Read more...]

Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint, Part 1: Planning

  Every restaurant should have a plan for handling complaints. Most of these plans lay out what the manager needs to do in the name of customer service. This usually consists of having a game plan for retaining the complainant as a customer. The end result might be comping a meal, sending out coupons, or inviting the customer back to prove that you can give them a good experience in your establishment. Most establishments train their employees on this all the time. Foodborne illness complaints are completely different. There still is the element of customer service, but dealing with an angry sick person has its own set of rules. A simple coupon for a free dessert probably won't cut it. … [Read more...]