Monday 24 February 2014

Now wash your hands

As I mentioned Dau.II came home for the week-end.  For the last several weeks she has been working (very hard) in a new restaurant in Cork called Burritos and Blues. You should check it out - the food on the menu is Mexican and tasty and doesn't seem outrageously expensive given that you get a balanced meal wrapped up in a tortilla the size of a baby's leg.  If the staff is especially charming and helpful by all means leave a big tip.  The hierarchy is very flat in this business: everyone wades in and does what's necessary - prep, cook, serve, clean, or cash.  The gaffer clearly has a good business head but it seems that paperwork and bureaucracy wrecks his head.  So when the Food Safety Authority (FSAI) offered a day-long seminar on hygiene and good practice, he sent two of his recent hires to represent the business and take notes. I had some informative chat this w/e about the issues of Food Safety in the retail sector.

The first thing I found interesting was the observation that servers in Sandwich Bars and similar outlets all wearing ludicrous, often outsized, polythene gloves while they pile up your sambo.  It didn't use to be like that.  A couple of decades ago when I was working in Dublin there was a shop on Fenian St, D2 that sold a sandwich the size of a sailor's leg (forget your delicate baby's leg sized burritos of nowadays) for £1.25.  The staff there were quick and sassy and efficient and piled handfuls of lettuce, tomatoes and coleslaw in on top of whatever you'd paid for (ham & swiss for me, please).  No gloves, no worries. Dau.II was saying that the gloves are so big and klutzy on her delicate hands that she's likely to cut off the plastic finger tips and leave them in the burrito along with the meat. No folks: it hasn't happened yet! The FSAI which knows whereof it speaks (science, microbiology, epidemiology data etc.) and The Public which knows bugger-all about microbial biology are in disagreement on gloves.  Sean Public wants the chaps behind the counter to wear them from an ill-informed and rather insulting fastidiousness about whether the serving hands have been washed.  FSAI prefers that servers don't wear gloves because doing so discourages the washing of hands that is key to avoiding cross-contamination.  Their take on gloves is nicely non-proscriptive but clearly against gloves. 

I'm much more confident about the efficacy of the FSAI after reading this.  A lot of food hygiene is a series of shibboleths whose reason is not properly articulated. If people knew why they should wash their hands then they'd scrub under the nails rather than rinse under a tap and dry on a probably contaminated towel.  About the same time I was eating a sailor's leg, The Beloved was commuting back and forth to Birmingham for work.  The Bean an B&B she stayed with mentioned one morning that the UK health&safety people were about to issue a diktat forbidding the drying of dishes with tea-towels; they recommended rinsing and air-drying on a dish-rack. All that has been replace by dish-washing machines now, but you take my point.

I learned one thing (perhaps the only reasonably certain thing?) from nearly ten years researching the relationships between the microbe Campylobacter jejuni and the immune system of its alternative hosts: chicken (Gallus gallus) and us (Homo sapiens):
Don't wash your chicken before you cook it!
Chickens - all chickens even/especially? the free-range, organic chaps - carry Campylobacter up their wazzoo.  It is part, maybe an essential part, of the intestinal flora of those birds and causes no symptoms of illness.  Au contraire, when we ingest a few of these bacteria the result is very likely to be a giving at both ends before the night is out.  The best practice therefore is to take your chicken carefully out of any packaging and get it into the oven directly and then now wash you hands please.  If you do the 'natural thing' and give the ould bird a rinse under the kitchen tap then you create a fine aerosol of air-borne Campy quite apart from splashing the lettuce you've left on the counter-top next to the sink.

New Rule: you're much safer if the girls behind the counter don't wear gloves when handling your lunch.

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