Restaurants world over provide excellent quality foods from the sensory satisfaction angle and families choose restaurants mostly based on the eating quality of the preparations served. Of course the price tag, presentation, ambiance, hospitality, safety and variety of foods offered all weigh in while choosing an eatery. Eating out has become a necessity to day because of time constraints for most families to spent in the kitchen. Recent reports that even the best restaurants cannot ensure safety to its customers are rather disturbing. Probably there is some truth here as most sanitation procedures focus only on bacteria and do not cover viruses which has the potential to create havoc if not removed from the serving dishes and plates through effective washing. Is this a serious problem? Currently no one knows though some scientists believe it can pose a challenge in future.
"While there are dishware cleaning guidelines, there are no actual laws that mandate food service businesses must use them. We know that when public food establishments follow the cleaning protocols, they do a very good job at getting rid of bacteria," says Pascall. "But, we don't know if those protocols work to kill viruses – and this may help explain why there are still so many illnesses caused by contaminated food." In 2010, Pascall was awarded with a grant from the Ohio State Center Clinical and Translational Science to test how effectively the current government standards, which are proven to sanitize against bacteria, are able to rid dishes and silverware of viruses. Pascall theorized that viruses could be a bigger health issue, because it only takes a small number of viruses to make a person sick and many viruses could withstand the high temperatures used in commercial dishwashing protocols."While there are dishware cleaning guidelines, there are no actual laws that mandate food service businesses must use them. We know that when public food establishments follow the cleaning protocols, they do a very good job at getting rid of bacteria," says Pascall. "But, we don't know if those protocols work to kill viruses – and this may help explain why there are still so many illnesses caused by contaminated food." Working with a team of virologists, Pascall set out to test the ability of common viruses – norovirus and sapovirus - to make it through a variety of "real life" food service cleaning scenarios. Norovirus is responsible for 90% of epidemic non- bacterial cases of gastroenteritis and is commonly associated with illnesses seen on cruise ships and other "closed communities" where the virus can spread easily. Building off these research results, which are currently being compiled, the team will next investigate if Hepatitis A and the avian flu virus are able to get past current washing and sanitization protocols.
Fortunately food poisoning episodes of non-bacterial origin are far and few and this must have lulled the industry in ignoring the danger posed by them. The fact that most virus-driven food poisoning episodes have been reported not from restaurants but from closed communities provides a clue as to the optimum conditions for the spread of virus. It is scary to hear about the possibility of bugs like Hapatis A and Avian Flu developing sufficient resistance under the current washing regime though it is only very distant possibility. Of course there are well known methods to inactivate viruses and if necessary detergent industry can be expected to come up with washing powder formulations containing anti-viral agents. Taking up investigation in this direction is timely and appropriate and the world will be waiting with baited breath to hear about the conclusions of such studies.