Menace in the Kitchen - Food Safety in Boston
Mudbugs and Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, even an experienced cook who knows better. A beautiful jambalaya was coming together nicely. The final addition was to be crawfish (frozen, thawed). I hesitated before adding them. It's been a long time since I've had crawfish, I didn't remember them being fishy? Then again, I was in the final throes of a migraine and that affects all my senses. Caleb had removed the packaging, noticed only a teensy tear in, but noticed nothing else off. We trust our purveyor, so I decided it was my migraine-compromised sense of smell.
Okay, I know what you're saying: I should know better. I DO know better. But this was just one incident. And it was just the two of us at home. (We ate a little, agreed it was probably better to be safe, chucked it, neither of us suffering any ill effects.)
This same night I took a big gulp of my iced tea, only to find I'd split a tea bag and was choking on a mouthful of tea leaves. This was not my day in the kitchen!
Dining Out in Boston
Dining out has been a different story. How about the mouse that crawled over my feet during dinner out one night on Newbury Street. The staff laughed when I told them and pointed to the mouse running across the floor. “Oh him? He's our mascot.” Check please.
Or how about my husband's roach salad? The manager indicated that it was, after all, “organic.” So is poop but I sure as heck don't want to eat it, you eejit.
When serving the dining public, our highly regarded chefs, kitchen staff and restauranteurs should be above such foolish decisions, right? Even if we can't trust them, our city has inspectors to check up on them, right?
That I, on my worst night, am in good company with some of Boston's finest hot spots is cold comfort, believe me. The problem appears that far worse than we might have thought. Some of our “best” restaurants have been in violation for pretty egregious things, for years. A recent exposé in the Boston Globe is enough to spoil your appetite.
Hard to say what part of the article is more horrifying: the discoveries or the attitude of the owners when questioned about them. I'm going with the latter. See, anyone can make a mistake. But if you are charged with several health code violations and you still have the attitude that it doesn't matter, you couldn't care less, or don't want to come clean [pun intended] that is clearly the more grievous sin. Here are some excerpts, judge for yourself.
Resaurant Clio – Ken Oringer is one of Boston's top celebrity chefs. His girlie- I mean, curly-haired visage graces the cover of one magazine in Boston or another about every other week. People swoon.
Several violations including six that cause food-borne illnesses, rat droppings by dumpster and threatened with closure. Ken Oringer's response? “We're very friendly with the Board of Health. We've never had any problems.” Asked specifically about the serious violations, “Make of them what you will. I'm not interested in discussing them any further.”
Violations: Ick. Droppings by the dumpster I assume this means outside. Problem, but probably difficult to avoid. But “several violations” including six which cause food borne illness were on the inside. This is inexcusable.
Response: Insult to injury, Oringer's “we're tight with the Board of Health and couldn't care less to discuss with you” attitude will not have me scurrying back to his spots anytime soon. How ironic two of his newest spots are La Verdad (something to do with truth) and K.O. as in knocked out with food poisoning...?
Aquitaine – Threatened with closure two years in a row (2005, 2006) but still have mice in store room, dead mouse in boiler room and out of date food on hand, presumably ready to be served. Poor hygiene noted. Dishwasher not hot enough to sterilize. If your staff are unclean and there are mice running around your kitchen, at least make sure the plates are clean.
“...welcome inspectors at any time. Aquitaine values recommendations and works closely with inspectors to uphold standards they set forth to ensure the safety of all patrons.”
Violations: Running a restaurant with serious violations for the third straight year but without consequence might lead one to get complacent but we should be comforted by the stated concern and promise of cooperation, maybe?
Response: Hollow pronouncements of concern and promise of cooperation. But let's be serious: you've got out of date food in the cooler, mice droppings everywhere and dirty employees...but you didn't notice until the Inspectors pointed it out? Three years in a row?
I dropped a line to the Mayor and his Inspectional Services Department. I'll let you know what I hear. [update: as of October 5, 2007 no word from the Mayor's office. Big surprise, eh? Click on that link to check what Inspectional Services might be posting on its "updates".]
In the meantime, check out this site for a few useful reminders. Oh, and don't forget to wash your hands.