Reducing Risk While
Dining at Restaurants During an E. coli Outbreak
There is an ongoing investigation to identify the source of the recent foodborne outbreak caused by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli) O103. A contaminated source could be “a specific food item, grocery store, or a restaurant chain” (CDC).
When a specific source has yet to be identified, be cautious and continue practicing safe food handling skills. When dining at a restaurant, here are some tips for staying safe:
Wash your hands. Right away, you are going to play the role of an investigator. Upon arrival at the establishment, go to the restroom of the restaurant and wash your hands; if there isn’t hot water or soap available, get out! A dirty bathroom means your food is not safe. Inadequate access to hot running water and soap means the employees handling your food are not doing a good job following food safety practices. Dirty hands can contain tiny fecal particles, which contain many foodborne pathogens. Norovirus, E. coli, and Campylobacter are all but a few types of bacteria that cause foodborne illness through a fecal transmission.
Look around. What is the likelihood of cross-contamination? If it is a buffet style restaurant, are the serving-handles be helping the spread of microbes from consumers hands to food? If the serving-handles look to short or do not look clean, leave! How long has the food been sitting out on the buffet? Remember, bacteria can double their population number in as little as twenty minutes when given the appropriate nutrients and temperature.
The danger zone for foodborne pathogens is between 40 °F to 140 °F. For more information about the “danger zone” visit the USDA’s page here: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/danger-zone-40-f-140-f/ct_index
Go with your gut. If you don’t think the food is going to be safely prepared (thoroughly washed produced, fully cooked meats, etc.), you can always eat at another restaurant.