The examination of your food, once you’ve received it, is possibly the most important final aspect of avoiding food poisoning or food-borne illness. There are definite obvious and not so obvious signs that you can lookout for in this last stand you have in preventing yourself from becoming ill.
I have one main rule that I recommend when any of these hazardous or potentially hazardous signs noted below are present in your food. Of course do not eat it, but also do not reorder the same food again. There is a good chance that either the server will possibly re-serve you what they just took away, or that all the servings of your food are unsafe, especially if it came from a batch processed food or dish, such as lasagna.
OBVIOUS HAZARDOUS SIGNS:
This means anything you can see, smell or taste. If any of the following conditions are found in your food, utensils, plates, glasses, etc., do not eat it, or immediately stop eating, call back your server or the manager and either leave or order something else all together, if you still have an appetite. Also, always do an inspection of your children’s food before and after they take a bite looking for these signs. Children, elderly and people who are chronically ill or with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to food-borne illness.
Obvious signs include any of the following:
–Foreign Objects. This is generally a non-food object that can be anything that is not supposed to be there. Some of the ones I have responded to as an inspector include bugs (commonly flies, cockroaches), fingernails, gloves, hairs (human and animal), chips of glass or plates, wood chips or pieces of a broken utensil. Though these objects are mostly accidentally introduced into your food, they are nonetheless dangerous and a violation of the health & safety code.
–Unfamiliar or Unappetizing Odors. This generally means a spoilage, but can also mean a food poisoning bacteria has produced to very large numbers causing an obvious odor. Much of the time food poisoning microorganisms are undetectable, but occasionally you can detect something out of the ordinary if bacteria were allowed to reproduce to large enough numbers.
–Unfamiliar or Unappetizing Tastes. Again, it could be related to a spoilage, but also a possible food poisoning bacteria or toxin produced by the bacteria that in large quantities can be detectable. Sometimes a person may recall after experiencing an obvious food-borne illness, that the food they suspected was the source of their illness had an unusual taste or smell that was just a little out of the ordinary, but not enough to stop them from eating it. Keep this in mind, especially if you are familiar with and have eaten this food before. You may just save yourself a few days of time off work and a lot of painful symptoms.
–Undercooked or Raw. You may not see it until you actually bite into it and if you do see it immediately spit it back out, especially raw chicken or hamburger and send it back following the Return Rule. Hamburger makes it more into the news these days, but raw or undercooked chicken can be just as dangerous.
–Insufficiently Cleaned Utensils. Smudge marks on glasses, food or encrusted food debris left on washed or clean plates or utensils indicate incomplete and insufficient washing and sanitizing. The dishwasher could be overworked or is not working correctly.
Though microorganisms are too small to see with the naked eye, and bacterial toxins are generally not detectable by taste, there are still subtle clues to alert you, as well as practices you can take to decrease your likelihood of contracting a food-borne illness.
Undercooked food may appear at first to be at the right temperature, but once you cut or bite into it and see signs of rare or raw, it’s best to follow the Return Rule.
Assume that all food you are served at a restaurant, if it is served hot or cold, is potentially hazardous. This means it can contain and support the rapid and progressive growth of infectious or toxin producing microorganisms – mainly bacteria. A good rule to follow is that if your food is supposed to be hot, it should be hot to the touch and possibly steaming, and if cold, you have to be able to feel or sense cold at your first bite. If anywhere between, or it feels just warm or room temperature, send it back and order something else altogether (Return Rule). If the food has been out of temperature for some period of time, there is a greater chance that bacteria have taken hold and reproduced to dangerous enough numbers such that reheating, normal cooking, or refrigeration and/or freezing will not guarantee that the food is safe to consume.
Most studies of food-borne illness causes I have seen conclude that a violation in the maintenance of the food’s temperature (temperature abuse) somewhere in the storage or processing steps, is the main contributing factor for the illness. Potentially hazardous foods must be stored and processed so as to minimize the time the food must spend in what is known as the food temperature danger zone – between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
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