How to protect against food poisoning

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It's an appetite killer: Researchers from Kansas State University watched 100 cooking shows and found common unclean food preparation behaviors.

For example, 23 percent of the chefs licked their fingers while cooking, and 20 percent touched dirty clothing or their hair, then touched food again.

If this happens while cameras are rolling, imagine what could be going on when nobody’s watching.

As a restaurant owner, Sam Meiner knows all about food safety, but even he didn’t think much about it when attending a barbeque event in his neighborhood.

"Somebody had a big piece of brisket and was digging into it with gloves on their hands and sweating on their food," Sam recalls.

Sam ate it anyway, but he didn't feel well while driving back home.

"I thought I was going to have an explosion. My stomach was going wild," he says.

Sam had food poisoning. According to the CDC, each year 48 million Americans get food poisoning, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

It mostly occurs outside the home. So what can you do to protect yourself?

First, check the outside of the restaurant for overflowing trash bins or opened back doors where flies or animals can enter the kitchen.

"If you see something that’s not right, A, don’t eat it, and B, I would maybe let the host or hostess know, 'Hey, the shrimp's been out for five hours now, you might want to get rid of it,'" suggests Joe Kivett, author of The Food Safety Book.

Another thing to do is examine the cook and wait staff. Hair must be restrained and nails should be clean. Sam follows these rules and more at his own restaurant and hopes other restaurants do, too.

"I found out it wasn’t fun to have food poisoning," he says.

Inspection reports for all food venues are available to the public.

If you have any concerns about a restaurant or vendor, check with your state health department or the health department in the county where you live.

REPORT #2337

BACKGROUND: Food poisoning is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms, including bacteria, viruses and parasites, or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning. Contamination of food can happen at any point during its production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Cross-contamination is often the cause. This is especially troublesome for raw, ready-to-eat foods, such as salads or other produce. Because these foods aren't cooked, harmful organisms aren't destroyed before eating and can cause food poisoning. Common symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, and fever. Medical attention should be sought if more serious symptoms arise such as bloody vomit or stools, neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms, or severe signs of dehydration.

THE STUDY: Researchers at Kansas State University found some disturbing statistics when they viewed 100 cooking shows with 24 popular celebrity chefs. Edgar Chambers IV, professor and director of the Sensory Analysis Center at Kansas State University, said that 23% of chefs licked their fingers, and 20% touched their hair or dirty clothing and then touched food again. Results of the study showed that 88% did not wash (or were not shown washing) their hands after handling uncooked meat. 50% ate while cooking, 25% used the same cutting board to prepare ready-to-eat items and uncooked meat, and 75% did not use a thermometer to test their food. This study suggests that there is a need for improvement in demonstrated and communicated food safety behaviors among professional chefs. Some chefs washed their hands before beginning to prepare food, but many never washed their hands again when they should have.
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PREVENTION: While you cannot stand over the chef at a restaurant and watch them make your food, there are some steps you can take to be safe when eating on the go. The Food Poison Journal suggests smelling your food and if there is any odd smell, send it back. Order popular items on the menu as the turnover on these items will be high meaning the food hasn’t been lying around the fridge. Check the bathrooms because if they are dirty, then that means the kitchen is probably unclean as well. Avoid salad-bars because they are a common place to get food poisoning, and never order fish on Mondays because chances are the chef bought it for the busy Saturday night, didn’t sell it, and it has sat in the fridge all day Sunday. Lastly, beware of specials. They can often be a way of moving some of the older stock by dressing it up and giving it a new name.