The great state of Connecticut, of which I'm prouder every day to be a citizen of, has a law halfway through the legislature which will require the service industry to give paid sick leave to it's employees.
Now, let's not get into political debate about this. I know we all have varying degrees of Libertarian leanings when it comes to government telling us what to do. I want to show you why this makes sense and help you to protect yourself no matter what the state officials end up doing.
A simple google search can get you all sorts of information about food borne illness. The CDC estimates the deaths per year between 5,000 and 9,000! I'm not an expert, but I took a 16 hour sanitation class (only 8 hours are required in CT) and I can assure you there are so many things about food safety that you don't even want to imagine are true. Many times we all left the class swearing we'd never eat out again.
Simply put, sick people are covered in germs you just can't see and there's a good chance that stuff will get on you and make you sick. If they blow their nose and then touch your plate, go to the bathroom (not wash their hands) and touch your plate - even if they just touch the food prep surface and then make salad on it! I could go on and on... There is so much to proper sanitation I wonder why all food service workers aren't required to complete the 16 hours of training. Cost maybe? But I doubt the government and the industry would let a silly thing like money get in the way of customer safety.
Smell that? That's sarcasm.
Our teacher, who is a health department legend around here, told us the story of a restaurant in Ridgefield where customers kept getting sick. Turned out the germs were being spread by the servers clearing the tables. Picking up dirty plates, serving new ones - all they needed to do was hire a busser...and maybe wash their hands more often.
When I was a server I practically washed my hands off! I washed my hands after clearing every table, before wrapping any leftovers and (of course) after every bathroom visit. Believe it or not we had a cook who was seen several times leaving the girls room without washing her hands. Management was told but she never was fired and she still never washed her hands. Needless to say I didn't eat anything there after that.
So, here are my (somewhat cheeky) suggestions for protecting yourself from food borne illness while out and about.
-Stay home and don't eat out (see, told you they were cheeky).
-Call ahead and ask the owner if they give paid sick leave.
-If they don't give paid sick leave ask how the owner can reassure you that none of his or her employees is vomiting or has diarrhea or Hep A or a staph infection living on their skin.
-Ask the host or hostess how often they disinfect the menus.
-Bring your own silverware.
-Ask the manager how much hand soap they go through per month and divide that number by the number of employees scheduled per shift then multiply that by the total number of employees. If that number is greater than 1 there's a good chance everyone is not washing their hands as often as they should.
-As soon as you sit down call over the manager or head waiter and tell them only your server is to bring your food, not the food runner and certainly not the busser. Then instruct him to take away any and all plates, glassware and silverware because you brought your own. Then you may loudly and obviously unload your store bought utensils and hand the manager the still wrapped sleeve of cups and stack of plates with specific instructions that only he or she may unwrap them (after having washed their hands vigorously with soap and hot running water for 20 seconds) directly before the cooks (who have also just washed their hands in the same manner) place the food on them.
-And people with food allergies, forget it. Stay home. Vegans, too. Really.
So, yes, the Libertarian in me thinks we can all handle this without government interference. We just need to educate ourselves, be pro-active and vocal about demanding our sanitary rights. And when that la-la land comes to fruition you let me know, because I'll be home eating my own damn food.