It is your grandmother’s birthday. You decide to celebrate at her favorite restaurant in Des Moines. You eat a nice dinner and then take Grandma home. The next day, you don’t feel so good. You call Grandma and she doesn’t answer. When you feel better, you go to her house to check on her. She is in bed, feverish, and covered in vomit. You call 911. The doctors diagnose her with Listeria, a type of food poisoning.
Food poisoning occurs when food becomes contaminated with unsafe levels of bacteria. Each year, one out of every six Americans suffers food poisoning. Most cases of food poisoning are mild. But food poisoning can be life-threatening, especially to children and the elderly. About 128,000 or two percent of food poisoning victims require hospitalization. Approximately 3,000 people a year die from food-borne illness.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, half of food poisoning cases are associated with restaurants. The CDC visited restaurants in ten states, including Iowa. They found that food-borne illnesses are caused by a variety of factors, including improper food handling practices, inadequate hand washing, and unsafe workplace policies.
Unsafe Practices at Iowa Restaurants
- Two-thirds of restaurant workers don’t wash their hands after handling raw beef. The CDC researchers visited 247 restaurants that used raw ground beef. In 192 of those restaurants, employees touched the beef directly with their bare hands. This is not always dangerous, but in 119 of those restaurants, the employees who touched the raw beef with their bare hands did not wash their hands before touching cooked foods. This means that bacteria like E. coli could be transferred from the raw beef to the food leaving the kitchen. E. coli is linked to 61,000 illnesses and 20 deaths a year.
- Restaurants often serve undercooked beef. The CDC asked managers at 385 restaurants about beef preparation. One hundred and ninety managers said that they determined “doneness” using color and feel rather than the temperature of the meat. This is not adequate. The CDC tested burgers in these restaurants and found that 12 percent of all burgers and 40 percent of those ordered “medium-rare” were not cooked to 155 degrees Fahrenheit and could still be contaminated with E. coli.
- Many kitchen managers do not know how to prepare chicken safely. Raw chicken can carry Salmonella, a bacterium that causes more than 42,000 cases of food poisoning and 400 deaths each year. The CDC interviewed 448 kitchen managers from both independent and chain restaurants. In 25 percent of the restaurants, cooks did not use disposable gloves when handling chicken. In 40 percent of the restaurants, cooks did not use a separate cutting board for raw chicken. Only 194 of the 448 managers knew that chicken must be heated to 165 degrees in order to be safe.
- Sick workers could be making you sick. The CDC also interviewed 491 food service employees. Forty percent of the workers had worked one or more shifts while sick. Twenty percent had worked at least one shift with vomiting or diarrhea; 12 percent worked with these symptoms for two or more shifts.
- Vegetables aren’t kept cold. The CDC found that half of leafy greens are delivered to restaurants at the recommended temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria can grow on greens stored at higher temperatures.
You can read more about the studies on the CDC website.
When you eat at a restaurant, you expect to pay for great food—not for food poisoning. Restaurants, like other businesses, have a duty to keep their customers safe. This means taking proper steps to prevent food-borne illness. A restaurant that doesn’t take these steps is negligent.
If you or a loved suffered severe food poisoning after eating at a Des Moines restaurant, you may be able to file a food poisoning lawsuit. Please contact Hupy and Abraham at 888-807-2752 for more information.