Saturday, July 2, 2011

Who's cooking for you??

This entry has nothing to do with my four-legged friends - but it is one I feel is important enough for me to break format - it's about your safety, my friends! 

I want to share an email with you that I wrote.   Firstly though, let's back a up bit and go to Austin, Texas.   I was visiting the city of Austin back in October of last year with a friend and while there we happened upon a new concept restaurant combining the goodness of Philly Cheesesteak with a Tex-Mex flair called, "Texadelphia".  I was blown away by the food and the overall concept of the restaurant's appearance.  It was very modern with big screen TV's throughout the dining area, but it also had a homey kind of western appeal to it as well.  As we were enjoying our meals (inhaling them is more like it) I had pondered the possibilities of this restaurant's success in my area, much closer to the border, and considered that it would do well, if run by the right people.

Well, somebody beat me to the punch, there is now a "Texadelphia" in my area.  According to their website, they had opened up in December of 2010.  The other night, a friend (the same one who accompanied me to Austin last year) and I went to check it out...

Texas History Lesson:

You see, the State of Texas requires that ALL employees become "Certified Food  Handlers"... even the dish washers and people who bus the tables must be certified by attending classes and gaining a permit to work in any setting that serves the public. They are so strict with it that even volunteers working for vendors selling food at weekend-long events must have a permit.  In Texas, it is a State mandate, overseen by each County's Health Department, however, each CITY has the true authority to issue the CFH Permits. HUH?? That basically means that if your permit is issued to you in City A, you can not use it to work in City B.  To work in City B, you must ALSO attend a certification class and obtain a permit from City B, as well.  One can have as many city certification cards as one desires but that can get expensive because the fees for each city may (and usually do) vary.  Each permit is good for one year, and must be renewed to continue employment.  There is also a Manager's Certification that goes beyond a Food Handler's Permit, allowing the holder to work anywhere in the state and only needs to be renewed every 3 years. 

I take the public's health and safety very seriously... and so... I EXPECT every person who is serving the Public in eateries to do the same, and when they don't... I turn them in!  

I share the following email with you in the hopes that every person who dines out (and I don't know a single person who hasn't) becomes aware of all of those "little things" that take place, even at their favorite eateries if not managed properly.  

Here are some things to consider when eating out...

 - Just where was that "rag" before he/she wiped my table, anyway??  Was it in the bathroom?? 
(Most restaurants, in an effort to save variable dollars (daily / weekly operating costs) will LIMIT their staff to how many towels are used per day, since they only have a limited number to last them per week.)

 - Speaking of bathrooms... Do the employees enter the bathroom (and the stall) wearing their aprons??  (Spray from a flushing toilet can reach as far as seven feet - I personally wouldn't want projectile fecal matter on my server's apron).

 - Did they take my straw with the glass to refill my drink?  Did I get the correct glass back?? (They should NEVER take your straw - if they do, ask for a new one.  I always ask for a new GLASS when its time for a refill to ensure I am not getting the guy's glass from the table next to me - besides, they have dish washers so I am providing him/her with job security when I ask for a new glass.)

- Did the previous people who sat here before me SNEEZE or COUGH all over those salt and pepper shakers ??  What about the people before them??  (Germs can live up to TWO+ HOURS on glass surfaces. I have seen kids LICK the shakers (especially cheese shakers) and their parents do not say a thing to their server to replace them for future patrons.)

Finally, There is the menu.  Always visit the restroom after you order to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds... and then USE A PAPER TOWEL to access the door handle when exiting the restroom.  (People sneeze, cough, and spit on menus (and kids drool).  They also lay them in the seats and benches next to them... these surfaces, including the menus are not sanitized after each use, most are only done once a week, IF AT ALL.  As for the bathroom door handle - not everybody washes their hands after using the facilities - GROSS!!   But true!)

There are so many "little things" that  many of us do not even think about but they could hurt you, and in some cases, they could even KILL you.  Keep that in mind as you read my email sent to the Texadelphia Corporate Offices and the County Health Department detailing my experiences with this "newer" restaurant in my town.

July 1, 2011

Texadelphia Corporate Offices

To Whom it Mat Concern:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I, along with a friend, had visited the Texadelphia Restaurant located at 1400 E Expressway 83 Suite 160 McAllen, Texas on June 30th, 2011 between 7:30pm and 8:00pm.  All I can say is, WOW!!

I am appalled at what I witnessed at this location.  All of these employees need to be trained or RE-TRAINED on the proper ways of handling the public’s food.  This restaurant was filthy!  Out of all of the tables in that place, only about seven tables were clean – I mean to say that there were only three tables with customers in use and all the rest, except perhaps six tables, had food baskets with food and cups on them.  I didn’t notice that right away though, what ACTUALLY made me look more closely at this restaurant’s dining room appearance was the food on the floor in the kitchen, which, in turn, prompted me to look at the cleanliness of the scattered countertops and then finally the cook working the grill. 

For some reason, I have always been fascinated by “the short order cook”, but based on what I observed next, this particular one scared me.  As I was standing there with full view of the kitchen, waiting in line for the customer before me to finish placing her order, I watched this cook work his grill and the sandwich board quickly, and the first thing I noticed about his behavior is that he likes to wipe his hands a lot.  The problem with this is that he used his soiled and contaminated APRON every single time he did it, and also failed to wash his hands when it was most appropriate.  That action is what made me look at the dining room, where I had noticed the plethora of dirty tables and wondered why I had not noticed it upon approaching the counter.  I turned around again to face the kitchen and watched the cook again.  It was clear that he was busy and he was (at that time) in there all alone.  That is when I watched him enter a drawer under the grill, grab raw meat with his bare hands and place these patties on the grill… THEN, WITHOUT WASHING HIS HANDS… He went over to another drawer, opened it up and stuck both hands and forearms inside and scooped out two mounds of tortilla chips and placed them in red serving baskets.  That is very dangerous!!  It was then that I decided to video the rest of the unsanitary activities taking place in this open kitchen.  When it was finally my turn to place my order, I quietly leaned into the counter not wanting to make a scene and mentioned what I observed to the cashier, and also mentioned that they should be more mindful of these things when working in an open kitchen with such a clear view from the dining room.  That’s when the cashier got her little attitude on, as if my advisement had personally offended her.  She was truly snotty, short, rude and just plain in appropriately unprofessional.  This cashier displayed every kind of rudeness possible, short of actually rolling her eyes.  She shot dirty looks at me the entire time I ordered, and when I expressed the hint that I was not familiar with the menu by asking for an “Angus Beef”, she said, in the most obviously sarcastic voice, “It’s called a “build your own”!” Well, EXCUSE me!  If I hadn’t had a friend with me at the time, I would have told her what I thought of her “service” and left right then and there so I wouldn’t have to worry about the potential food borne illness in my very near future from this unsanitary kitchen.  I guess this restaurant must be doing pretty well financially to treat customers as if they are not welcome, or perhaps this cashier is just in the wrong business, whatever the case, her behavior was unprofessional and uncalled for, to say the least but it didn’t stop there.  After paying, she shoved the table tent number tag in my direction, and never even said “Thank you”… you know… for my order… for my money… for my choosing their business out of ALL of the other choices I have in this city.  I did however get nasty looks from her the entire time I was waiting for my order, although I don’t think she knew that I noticed her “attitude from afar”, but I certainly did.  After taking our order (and trying to make me feel very unwelcome) she went to the kitchen area, turned her back to me and began talking to the older gentlemen that has since joined the other cook in the kitchen, I’m guessing this man was the manager, as he seemed to be in charge at the time.  Moments later, I heard the manager tell the cook (on the grill) to wash his hands.  I thought to myself, “A little too late don’t ya think?”  Why didn’t he THROW OUT THE CONTAMINATED TORTILLA CHIPS????  And so, the cook (I will call him “Cook 1”) just reached around the corner, and then brought his hands back and rubbed them together. I am hoping a sanitizer dispenser was there, but he still had not washed his hands. Sanitizer gel does not replace the washing of hands, and it most certainly does not do anything if applied to SOILED hands.  I was disgusted, but it got MUCH WORSE as the evening progressed. 

It took about 25 minutes for our food order to reach the table, which gave me ample time to observe even more public health concerns that I feel the local health department should look into more closely.  In those 25 minutes, I observed the following:

Cast of Characters:
Cook 1:  Young man working grill and sandwich board
Cook 2 / Manager:  Older man working sandwich board, fryer, serving baskets
Miss Charming:  Cashier with attitude.

 - Both men in kitchen (Cook 1 and Cook 2 / Manager) had failed to wash their hands several times when it was necessary.  (I have this on video).

 - Cook 1 (on the grill) continuously wiped his hands using his apron (I have this on video).

 - Cook 2 / Manager continuously wiped his hands with the very same dishtowel he used to also wipe down soiled and contaminated counter tops. (I have this on video).

 - I couldn’t figure out what the huge unattended flames reaching to the top of the grill stack were for, but then again, I had already admitted to you that I am not familiar with the menu. 

 - Cook 2 / Manager continuously changing his gloves - YAY!!   
Unfortunately, I also observed that every time he changed his gloves, he would then immediately touch the handles of the fry baskets, open refrigeration doors and touch other contaminated surfaces then go back to the sandwich board to handle ready to eat foods, such as buns, chips etc with those same (now dirty) gloves (I have this on video). It makes we wonder, “What’s point of the gloves?”  I observed this practice at least 12 times before I finally stopped counting because, frankly by this time, I already have a FULL understand of the hygiene and public health / safety practices of this location. 

When the food finally made its way out of the dirty kitchen and into the still dirty dining area (remember, 25 minutes had gone by and still the other tables had not been cleared and cleaned) “Miss Charming” cashier carried out the baskets to our table and, without a word, she practically threw (dropped) those baskets on the table, reached across the friend I was with and snatched up the table tent, then scurried away just as quickly as she had appeared.  Again I say, she is in the WRONG BUSINESS!

The food was unimpressive; the burger my friend ordered was charred around the edges and very dry.  Perhaps this particular burger had succumbed to the 3 foot high flames I mentioned earlier, but I wasn’t close enough to tell whose meat was being flamed – I was far more interested in observing the blatant, gross neglect of the health and safety regulations that the State of Texas clearly outlines and mandates of all food service industry employees.  This restaurant is best described as “sanitarily negligent and very unprofessional”.   If they want steady customers to visit, change in staffing is a MUST! 

Just when I thought the violations on sanitation and food safety couldn’t possibly get ANY worse – I observed the cashier (again, “Miss Charming”) assist a dine-in customer who approached the counter.  The customer, who had dined in with her family, apparently asked for a “To-Go” bag.  I watched in DISGUST AND HORROR as the cashier LICKED HER THUMB to separate the bags, pulled the bag open, and then handed it to the customer.  I have to tell you that if that were me standing there getting that bag, I would have been outraged and let every customer in that place know EXACTLY how unconcerned and untrained these employees are about their public’s health and safety.

Instead, I am spreading the word of the extremely poor and dangerous food safety practices, as well as the poor service one receives when the employees are called out on these practices, that take place at 1400 E Expressway 83 Suite 160 McAllen, Texas.   The local health department will receive a copy of this email, along with the videos I took to support my claims.  In the meantime, I highly suggest retraining of this entire staff, including management, with a strong emphasis on the laws and regulations set forth by the State of Texas and the Hidalgo County Health Department or risk being shut down.

McAllen, Texas 

Please share your own horror stories of places you have visited in the comments section.  
Thanks for reading.  

This is DaCanon Blasting Off!