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The International Writers Magazine:
You Say Oysters - I Say Oystars

What Restaurant Owners Should Know:
Chef Jeffrey Allen Kaufman
The one thing that can slip in and destroy your image, and customer base is a food born illness of any kind.


With the constant rise of seafood products being placed on new menus everywhere in America, and from different food sources imported from regions across the globe. Safe food handling, and sanitation guide lines from health departments around America have stepped up to help reduce the chances of illness, and food poisonings. The need to train people, employees, and restaurant owners more effectively in safe food handling practices has been proven to be needed, and updated to a more stronger educational study program in the last couple of years.

With more reasons than the obvious, after September 11th, the Homeland Security Council pushed for more prevalent ethics to be introduced to the public, and private companies in America. The efforts have paid off, and many states have adopted better training guidelines for their departmental staff dealing with proper food handling, production inspections, and agriculture.

One major concern is Seafood. Commercially supplied shellfish from over seas, and both fresh and salt water species of fish are being more carefully monitored. Just recently Asia came under fire for the heavily contaminated quality of some species of fish. A once plentifully supply, and assortment of was thought good quality bassa (Vietnamese Species of Catfish), has come to now a somewhat fainter trickle. Still available in America, it has become a target of high inspection, and suspicion as far as quality is concerned, which has slowed the rate of importation, and dispersal.

The major problem with any seafood is in what happens once it reaches restaurants, and food outlets. Some bacteria although allowed to a small minuet percentage, can grow rapidly if not handled correctly by under trained employee’s of any established outlet.

With the death rate in America of food poisoning being somewhat incalculable, a known large percentage comes from seafood, and other high protein products. Studies show that the eating of improperly cooked, or handled seafood might be the highest leading death rate of any food product in the country. Raw, or under cooked seafood has to be inspected closely by consumers.

Owners, take some precautions:

1. Have your staff trained completely by your local health department, making it prerequisite that a newly hired employee get his/her sanitation and food handling certificate before being hired, or receives training while working until a passing grade is established.
2. Keep good records of precautions used in food storage temperatures of your products both while in production, and while in storage.
3. Safeguard your food storage units from shut down. Hire an alarm company to monitor freezer, and cooler temperatures. After hours this comes in handy, and if the temperature should rise to a inappropriate level, most security companies will call the general manager at home to advise him/her of the situation.
4. Practice good sanitation guidelines, and if needed, find better suppliers if you suspect low quality products. Check for freezer burn, and discoloration upon delivery.
5. Have your cooks prepare, and inspect products before opening hours. Smelling the products before use could mean everything, but sometimes smelling raw products is not enough. A cooked small sample of the items before opening can more quickly alert them to bad products by the smell produced when cooking.

The most important thing to remember is it’s better to take a questionable item off the menu for a night, than to make the wrong choice and serve it.

What Consumers Should Know:

Hepatitis A, Norwalk, and Rotavirus are three examples of viruses that can be found in raw shellfish, and raw seafood. A common virus that can be encountered in Oysters is the Norwalk. Which can cause symptoms in 24-48 hours. Symptoms that are nausea, projectile vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and possible head aches.

The most common illnesses coming from bacteria, and in which large doses can be fatal if ingested are commonly produced from improper handling. A Bacterial infection from Shigella for example is a horrible ordeal to go through, but not the most common of bacteria infections, with Vibrio being slightly more common. Both coming from poor handling procedures, and improper cooking techniques.

Toxins on the other hand, like Ciguatoxin, DSP and PSP react quickly on the consumer. Ciguatoxin comes from warm water species of fish, and cause dizziness, changes in core body temperature, diarrhea, and vomiting. Usually coming on in 30 minuets, to 36 hours of time. DSP and PSP are normally found in species of shellfish, and cause numbness, and uncoordination, which effects the nervous system of the consumer in 10-60 minuets.

There is also a Parasite found in raw, or under cooked seafood, that makes one reconsider eating sushi presentations. Anisakis, a horrible parasite, one which causes nausea, vomiting, coughing, bloody stools, and fever. Thats not all, if left untreated, this parasite tries to find the softest, thinest skin to eat their way through. This on the human body is found around the eyes. Parasites are a very common but unknown problem with seafood consumption.

The main thing to remember is that you eat at your own risks. If you enjoy raw Oysters, and raw preparations of shellfish, or seafood, you do this at your own risk, but if you do get ill, seek a emergency room. Emergency rooms are better equipped to deal with food poisonings, especially seafood. Do this at the first sign of sickness. Don't hesitate to seek medical help if you become violently ill.

Report any instance of illness to your local health department immediately. It might seem like you receive a gauntlet of questioning when you do, but in the long run your helping your fellow consumers. What might not have killed you, might the next person. Health departments investigate depending on their way of accepting reports. Most will only investigate after 2-3 people complain about the same place. In order to deal with false epidemics, and false reporting. In the long run, it is important that you do report your illness, and do it properly. Keep the date of your visit in memory, and what you ate. Keep receipts handy for proof to the health department if needed.

The best practice is to enjoy your seafood in smaller quantities when first visiting a new establishment, and once you find a good establishment, stick with it. If you are unaware of it’s sanitation grade, ask to see it. The numbers speak for themselves, and the certificate should be posted in a area accessible to customers for viewing. Scoring is based on many factors, but food safety is the most important, so ask the manager questions, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you ask, the more they know your well informed.

Ask about the quality, ask how the food is prepared, and even ask how its stored. Make friends, so to speak with the manager, or owners. The better they know you, the better they will understand your needs, and even the slightest most questionable food items will be kept from reaching you. More than likely you will receive the freshest of the fresh, if they know you better than Joe blow who just walked in the door.

© Chef Jeffrey Allen Kaufman Jan 2010
Professional Executive Chef and Restaurant Business Consultant
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