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Laura Trivers's picture

In line at a popular burrito chain with my son, we watched as one employee made the order for the customer in front of us, took money, made change, and then returned to make my son’s burrito.  In the same pair of plastic gloves.

She quickly complied with my request for her to wear new gloves, unlike the deli worker at my local Whole Foods.  I watched him and his glove-clad hands walk through doors to a storage area and then return carrying more deli meat in one hand and rubbing his nose with the other.  He then argued with me that he did not have to change his gloves.  Luckily, another employee interceded, and the nose-rubber changed his gloves.

Tami H. commented on a previous blog post, food service workers seem to wear “plastic gloves as if they are trying to protect their own hands from germs instead of your food!”

Tami’s right.  The corporate consumer relations folks respond to these incidents with the appropriate outrage, express concern for the health of their customers, and promise to talk with the store management.  Yet, from burrito joints to grocery stores, these incidents keep happening.

And, it’s serious.  According to recent CDC data, 48% of foodborne illness outbreaks come from restaurants; another 21% come from homes.  When you think about the amount of prepared food we buy to eat at home, it gives you pause.  Studies have shown that foodborne illness pathogens – E.coli, Salmonella, and others – can be transmitted from food service workers to food – food that your family is about to eat.

Because young children are at higher risk of foodborne illness, moms and other caregivers must be vigilant that food made for children follows the highest standards.  Senior citizens, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems are other high-risk populations.  We must speak up, even when it is uncomfortable.

A friend tried to order a rotisserie chicken from her local grocery store recently.  Behind the counter, a store employee was placing raw chickens on the rotisserie.  The employee took off his gloves to help his customer.  Since he had just touched disposable gloves covered in raw chicken goop, she asked him to wash his hands. He loudly and rudely refused to wash his hands. Ick.

The customer walked away, found a manager, and got her chicken – served by an employee with clean hands and fresh gloves.

The first employee?  Probably got a lecture on customer service and had to re-read the employee food preparation manual.

Is that enough?

Food service workers are on the front lines of getting us dinner and therefore protecting our health.  But, we must watch and verify.  The deli counter or the burrito line may not be the best place to catch up on PTA gossip.  And, again, if you see something, say something. Say something to the servers, to the manager, and to the health department.  We need to be loud against unsanitary food practices.  Our health and the health of our children depend on it.

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