Eaaaarggh…what really made you sick last night
Restaurants are defensive of their hygene in the same way that newspapers are defensive of the accuracy of their reporting. Phone up and complain and the last thing either will do is admit liability. And nowadays when people are treated shabbily they turn to the internet. Or me.
What surprises me is the number of emails and comments that come my way from diners who’ve returned home from some of Australia’s top restaurants only to fall ill. I have become, you might say, shit-central - and vomit-central - of the blog world.
The truth is for what I see is there is a good chance you may become ill eating out although not always is it the restaurant’s fault.
Apart from the food authorities in NSW, the food inspection Stasi can’t really be bothered to help diners.
In NSW, a site that names and shames restaurants that either receive penalty notices or are prosecuted. Obviously the lists give restaurateurs, um, the shits. But the financial penalties for putting the health of diners at risk of $660 or less are paultry for a thriving business in a world where you can be fined $1,500 taking a Chihuahua onto a Queensland beach.
It turns out that about one in ten restaurants failed inspections in NSW in the first half of the year.
In SA, thanks to the efforts of the independent MP for Mitchell, Chris Hanna, dirty restaurants are to be named and shamed.
But what of other states? In Victoria the food police are of the secret Stasi variety and are doing everything to avoid revealing anything despite the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from the intrepid blog Fitzroyalty, the only media bothering with this fight.
The City of Yarra claims it doesn’t have the data in a suitable form to release. And at a state level the policy appears to favour secrecy, which makes me wonder if the state Labor party is on the side of the food industry or the general eating public.
For the general public, short of the impractical step taking a stool/vomit sample and having it and a restaurant kitchen tested, it is difficult to work out what has caused sickness or diarrhoea. The incubation times of bacteria and viruses vary wildly and for many people who return home ill from an evening meal it may have been their lunch or breakfast that caused the problem, although not always.
According to the excellent Barf Blog, bugs such as the Staphylococcus Aureus can cause sickness within a few hours because of the toxins it releases. The Norovirus and Rotavirus can take a couple of days to develop.
The thing is all these guides to fine dining on the internet are all good and well. But I’d like one that will tell me whether I will survive the meal as well.
Here are some of the top causes for what made you ill:
These bivalves are filter feeders which means if there is anything dodgy in the water, you’ll end up feeling dodgy too. My twidow cracked a rib puking-up a bad oyster.
It doesn’t do to think to hard about lavatory hygene. But when you think how many grubby, germ ridden mitts have touched at those doors, flushers and taps, taking a bottle of antiseptic hand wash seems as sensible in a restaurant as it does in Laos. The same goes for airplane lavatories.
An aperitif, a bottle or white and a big red between two is quite a lot of booze for anybody who doesn’t work in the media. It’s no wonder you’ve got an upset tummy.
The most expensive emetic I know, and I do because I’ve experimented on my twidow (Twitter widow), is any dish that combines the hat trick of foie gras, truffle and caviar. Lot’s of people vomit because they are not used to rich food.
I know this first hand from a recent dodgy desert banquet in Dubai. Luke warm food hanging around for too long is a breeding ground for bugs. I was so ill that I soiled two different beds over four days. And a brand new iPhone.
Sprouts and salad bars are a haven for E Coli and Salmonella. And as for the warm wet conditions that favour the growth of sprouts. And microbes.
Again, unwashed hands, covered with bugs and many of them dipping into crisps and nuts. Or mints at conferences, which is why they are now individually wrapped.
Assorted air and surface born viruses
In the macho world of work too many of come in ill and spread the nasty bugs. There is no worse place to come in when you have an upset tummy or swine flue than a restaurant kitchen. Think of Heston Blumenthal who was forced to close his Fat Duck in the UK for two weeks after almost everybody who had eaten there in February fell ill.
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