ED'S NOTE: Today's guest blogger is rivitman, a Tacoma cook and frank patron at Ed's Diner. Regarding a story about kitchen health hazards (and more), I give rivitman the keys to Ed's Diner today. His opinions are uniquely his. They originally appeared in the comments of other posts. They're something to chew on.
UPDTED I've asked Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Restaurant Association, to offer his organization's perspective (or rebuttal) to rivitman. I'll post his response here if and when he replies. -- Ed Murrieta.
How can things be improved? I'm unsure. The food business is largly owned and run by profiteers of the worst sort, the sort that know little about food, and care about it even less. Cooks and other personnel rarly even show up on the radar screen; They are viewed and a necessary evil at best. It's peculiar that an industry that puts on such a welcoming face is also shamelessly hypocritical.
I am generalizing here and of course there are execptions. But the fact remains, your food is probably prepared by someone with one foot in the kitchen, and the other in homelessness. Or mom and dad's house. Or Mexico. It's 100% useless to talk about one more hazard among the vast array that most kitchen help faces every day.
I would remind you at this time of the smoking ban. The organizers of this propped up restaurant employees as poster children, examples of who is harmed. I laughed at this little political manuever, even as I stood over a smoking flattop grill sucking in burning oil, while fighting the flu, and being deafened by the extraction hood fans.
And the fact is, unless someone with some political pull (and money) decides to dedicate substantial time to improving conditions and wages for cooks and dishwashers, nothing much will happen. But cooks are mutts and mutts usually get put down, not adopted.
And you have the evil empire AKA the Washington Restaurant association and it's parent national primed with cash to fight anyone who dares.
In the meantime you can make a few pointless gestures:
1. Stop eating bad food. You know what it is, I don't have to tell you. Put the non hackers out of business.
2. Stop ordaining star chefs. Realize that behind most every one of them is a sous, some prep cooks, some line cooks, and a number of absolutly indispensable dishwashers that perform unspeakable acts daily to make Mr star chef's light bright. There are genuinly talented chefs. There are also some that can't cook. There are some chefs who don't even want to cook, and are the chef so they can avoid the stove, and you will probably never know who. Some just know how to sell themselves as an illusion. But those that get the job done are much further down on the pay scale. Don't beatify any chef unless you know he can throw down. Anytime. Because my friends, chefs are part of the problem. There I said it.
Hard to swallow? Choke on it. Chefs, you are part of the problem. You may think you got your current position by way of hard work, skill, and drive. And for those of you that did, honors be unto you.
Or did you leave a trail of broken cooks, sous chefs and dishwashers in your wake? Do you have this human kind of wreckage to your credit? You are part of the problem.
3. Understand that there is no great culinary tradition here as there is in europe. Cooking is NOT a time honored profession here. Anything YOU can say or do in the media, with your elected officials over time to point out the sorry lot of cooks and dish machine operators can only help.
4. If you had a good meal, send word to the kitchen via the waitperson. Be strident about the message being delivered. It helps, trust me. It's the only reason for cooking for a paycheck at all more often than you might think.
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Here's rivitman on an earlier issue:
Inspection reports tell the customer little to nothing. They make it appear as if there are savagely fedid practices in progress when it isn't necessarily so.
I'll cite a personal example.
Inspector walks in. ALL my cooks are wearing rubber gloves.
Inspector observes one cook change gloves.
Hands were not washed between one pair and the next.
ZING! Five red points. Violation: Improper handwashing.
Does this make you nervous? Does it leave you with the impression my cooks were not washing their hands? Would it leave you to believe that our standard practices were unsanitary?
If so, you get a cookie. Or a really good dishwasher who needs a job.
A health department inspection is a very dry, clinical exercise, and no violations stated on inspection reports are put in any sort of context. If an inspector walked into you home and watched you and yours prepare dinner on any given night, you would likely fail miserably. Your sanitary pracitces, your refrigeration, your cooling of foods and your storage, not to mention kitty and rover. This is not to say you are a dirty person. Or that you trust in your own bacteria. You would simply fail on this very technical exercise, and have your failings defined by a catagorized checklist using standard definitions, and it is that standard definition that gets made public.
Cool a fresh pie on the counter?:
IMPROPER COOLING OF POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS FOOD.
The fact is, while doing considerable good, health departments are also ruining food and fueling paranoia. A quick reality check indicates that leafy green vegetables are the number one cause of food borne illness. Sure washing them lessons the risk, but there you are.
By the letter of the law, Hollandaise sauce is an illegal substance. So is that little cup of non shelf stable cream for your coffee that is on your table.
The health department also has personal and political foibles that interfere with thier objectivity (not necessarily with the inspectors, but those who dispatch them.)
If all this is allowed to continue, you food will be ruined, overcooked, over handled, irradiated and lifeless.
Don't believe me? Go out and get HACCP certified, and take the food managers course at the TPCHD. You will either:
A: Boil everything you eat from then on, or...
B: Stop worrying and enjoy food again.