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R&IEditorial Archives2001June 1 — Viewpoint

The Raw Truth

Food safety: is it an epidemic or a yawn? Is it simply fodder for sensational reporting or is it the biggest problem and challenge in the foodservice industry?

Of course, all of the above--and more--can be said about the safety of the foods we eat and serve. In New York City, WABC-TV broadcast a lengthy series of reports on food safety both in restaurants and in home kitchens. As you'd suspect, the findings were frightening. Sure, such reporting hypes ratings and can be considered sensational, but as fact-based information it must be listened to and heeded. After all, foodservice's customers are watching, believing and forming opinions.

No one really knows how many people suffer from food-related illnesses each year, but if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's estimate of 76 million cases--including 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths--is even close, a big opportunity to improve conditions exists.

The ease with which simple misunderstandings can happen is cause for extra caution. One such misunderstanding occurred in the April 15 issue of this magazine in an interview with John Farquharson, president of the International Food Safety Council, an initiative of the National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation. He is widely known as an expert on food safety, and in the interview he made this technically accurate statement: "There's nothing wrong with raw eggs--if they've been properly handled, kept at the proper temperature and come from a reliable supplier."

Upon reading his words in print, John, in a highly responsible action, sent a letter to Editor-in-Chief Patricia B. Dailey stating, "While I, personally, partake of eggs sunny side up, or a less-than-well-done hamburger now and then, I do not recommend eating raw eggs or raw hamburger."

Speaking as one who also enjoys eggs (I like mine over easy) and less-than-well-done hamburgers, I agree with John that it is important to reflect upon the nuances of detail concerning food-safety issues.

It is important that we not be casual in our attitudes toward matters of customers' health personally or, more importantly, in conveying information to the industry's employee population at large.

On its Web site, WABC-TV offered many tips to avoid food poisoning, some of them involving restaurant patronage. Its research found salad bars are an especially troublesome area, so the station suggested consumers find a cleaner salad bar by visiting buffets early in the day before the lunch rush; look for multiple serving spoons; watch for gloves on the employees and look for stacked trays that are not wet. My point in mentioning these recommendations is that customers are becoming much better informed in their decisions on where to eat. Closely monitoring food-safety conditions pays off for operators in many ways.

The NRA's Educational Foundation offers extensive information and training programs to help operators improve the state of food safety in their operations. These products are available through state restaurant associations or can be obtained directly from the Educational Foundation's offices in Chicago. Contact them at or visit

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