Saturday, February 4, 2012


No matter how stringent the food safety regulations are, as long as human beings handle food there is bound to be health risks associated with such mass manufactured food products. It is a wonder that instances of food poisoning are not as alarming as it could be, considering the massive volumes handled by the food industry, especially in a high consumption country like the US. The new regulations which are supposed to be more stringent, based on past experience being enforced in that country are giving, probably, false hopes to the consumers that they can relax with no possibility of any danger from the foods they access from the market. Probably such a feeling is misplaced as there is nothing in this world which is absolutely safe, the whole life being a balance of risks and benefits associated with day to day activities. Recent food poisoning episode in the US that affected about 69 people in 10 states has been attributed to foods consumed in Mexican restaurants but it is not yet certain that those affected consumed the food from one or more restaurants belonging to established Mexican food chains. Investigation should pin point the source from where Salmonella was able to gain access to the stomach of the affected consumers so that such incidences are not repeated else where in future. 

"Food Safety News has found that six fast food "Mexican-style" restaurant chains -- Taco Bell, Chipotle, Qdoba, Del Taco, Taco John's and Taco Del Mar -- have locations in at least 7 of the 10 states reporting victims tied to the outbreak. Three chains - Chipotle, Qdoba and Taco Bell - have locations in all 10 states. Because the CDC lists outbreak victims by the state in which their illnesses were reported, it is possible that some of the victims ate contaminated food in one state and fell ill in another state -- meaning "Restaurant Chain A" does not necessarily have a franchise in each state that reported an outbreak-related case of salmonellosis. Food Safety News attempted to contact representatives from each of the six restaurant chains. Thus far, only representatives from Qdoba and Chipotle have stated their chains were not involved in the outbreak. "There is no connection to Chipotle and we have not been contacted by CDC or any other health officials regarding this incident," said a representative for Chipotle in an emailed statement to Food Safety News Monday.  "No, we have not been linked by the CDC to any Salmonella outbreaks at any of our locations," Lauren Preston of Qdoba told Food Safety News Monday. Taco Bell, Del Taco, Taco John's and Taco Del Mar did not return any of Food Safety News's requests for comment, despite repeated attempts. Last week, Food Safety News called the health departments in each of 10 states involved in the outbreak, and the CDC and FDA, and none of these public agencies would provide the name of the restaurant. The list of states where Salmonella enteriditis illnesses were reported is as follows: Texas (43), Oklahoma (16), Kansas (2) Iowa (2), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1) and Tennessee (1)". 

Has the above episode a lesson to offer to restaurants catering ethnic foods? It is widely known that those catering ethnic foods from China, India, Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc are less rigorous in their adherence to standard hygienic and sanitary practices raising the chances of contamination in the preparations made by them. While Indian customers with "strong" stomach might not react to foods marginally tainted, local population trying such foods occasionally may not have the required "immunity" to resist even mild contamination resulting in illness. The message from the above episode is that ethnic food caterers must see the writing on the wall and make their establishment truly safe for every customer who walks in for enjoying their food with no danger of falling sick.


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