Would you like germs with that?

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By Robert Harland

What's cooking?

Monday, September 1, 2014

IT’S usually a given that if a restaurant's CR is dirty, the kitchen will be the same. So, before sitting down in a new restaurant, take a quick look at the CR. If it's filthy, beat a hasty retreat and eat elsewhere.

It will come as no surprise to readers that restaurant kitchens can be a paradise for bacteria. But bugs thrive on tabletop items, too. So what other dangers lurk in restaurants?

In a quest to find out just how many germ hotspots await us, ABC's TV show Good Morning America sent a team of scientists to swab the items on the tables of 12 restaurants, including the salt and pepper shakers, tomato ketchup and mustard.


They found that menus carried the most germs, with an average count of 185,000 bacteria ¬- nearly 16 times that of the second most germ-infested item, pepper shakers. Everyone looks at the menu, but not everyone loves pepper.

Have you ever seen a waiter wipe a menu? No, nor have I. So next time you eat out either hold the menu with tongs or wash or sanitize your hands thoroughly after reading it!

We often see restaurant staff wearing plastic gloves. According to Howard Cannon, a restaurant consultant for insurance companies investigating claims of food poisoning, plastic gloves give cooks - and therefore, customers - a false sense of security.

“Plastic gloves are more dangerous than bare hands. It’s easy to touch raw pork, then move onto touching another food item. Those very gloves become the vehicle for contamination when not changed often enough, or worse, when the same gloved hands that prepare food then go into a cash register," Cannon said.

And, believe it or not, even restaurant chairs come in for criticism. In another study, conducted by New York University's Microbiology Department, restaurant chairs were tested and it was found that 70 percent of the chairs tested had 17 different kinds of bad bacteria on them, including strains of E. coli.

Because all customers sit on them, and most restaurants don't think to sanitize them, it shows that even the most spotless-looking surfaces at your favorite restaurants may be harboring dangerous germs.

Another worrying bacteria trap appears to be lemon wedges used as garnish for drinks and salads.

In the same New York study half of the lemon wedges tested were contaminated with fecal matter. Hidden cameras showed kitchen workers using their bare hands to pick up the lemons and cut them thereby causing germs to spread quickly.

At this rate, perhaps we'll never want to eat out again, but, luckily most of us have a strong immune system, so our bodies will be able to fight off most germs. Few of us ever get sick after eating in a restaurant.

However, given the potential to collect unwanted germs while enjoying an evening out, it's probably a good idea after you've handled the menu and ordered your food, to go the CR (clean we hope) and thoroughly wash your hands!

And if we all ask waiters often enough to wipe menus before we pick them up, who knows, there's always the chance restaurants will eventually do this automatically.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on September 01, 2014.


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