Debunking the top foodborne illness-related myths
Tuesday, Jul 30th 2013

Although many restaurants and food service providers do everything they can to ensure the safety and quality of their products, including using state-of-the-art temperature monitoring equipment for their cold storage units, foodborne illness still afflicts millions of Americans every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every six U.S. residents becomes sick from food poisoning every year, representing close to 48 million people in total. Furthermore, approximately 128,000 end up in the hospital and 3,000 perish annually because of a foodborne illness.

Many factors contribute to these statistics, but one of the main reasons is that many diners and restaurant managers erroneously think that their practices and standards are good enough. However, these assumptions are often based on myth, and their prevalence results in many people unnecessarily falling ill every year. In particular, here are the top three foodborne illness-related myths to keep in mind:

1) Government inspectors always stop violators
Local, state and federal officials work hard to cite food service institutions that break the rules relating to food safety. However, these agencies are simply not able to stop everyone. For instance, a behind-the-scenes video shot by a Golden Corral employee earlier this year showed that one restaurant manager supposedly hid meat and cooking supplies in a back alley to prevent government inspectors from noticing a number of certain health code violations.

"In this case, and perhaps hundreds more around the country that go unnoticed, it seems management chose deception over honesty," Richard Console of the law firm Console and Hollawell wrote in a July blog post. "It's a big gamble. On one side there's the need to keep the business open, and on the other is the state's requirement that the restaurant follow proper health and safety regulations. Shady restaurant owners who decide to game the system turn health inspectors into police officers when all these professionals try to do is prevent foodborne illnesses and help owners avoid lawsuits."

2) Only meat can lead to food poisoning
In many cases, especially in high-profile incidents, the noted cause of a particular outbreak is an animal protein, be it fish, shellfish, poultry or red meat. However, this does not mean that fruits and vegetables are immune from being the root cause of a foodborne illness. According to the CDC, plant-based foods such as grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts can all lead to food poisoning and as such should be carefully stored in a room equipped with the proper temperature monitoring equipment.

3) Alcohol kills all bad pathogens
Although alcohol can act as a disinfectant, no restaurant owner or patron should think that a stiff drink will protect them. Instead, the only real way to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses, according to Console, is to keep surfaces clean and to ensure that food is at the right temperature at all times. This means that dishes should be cooked to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and cold storage units containing everything from cheese and milk to steaks and lettuce should be 40 degrees or cooler.

"Violating health code standards isn't acceptable, and by that I mean it's illegal," Console wrote. "Those who ignore them willfully walk a dangerous line of liability when their actions harm others. We have more at stake here than just a sea of upset stomachs and a couple days spent in bed. People die every year from foodborne illnesses that may have been prevented had restaurant owners or manufacturers held their products and employees to the letter of state and federal health statutes. Let's not wait for another teen with a cell phone and YouTube account to expose a restaurant's sneaky (and dangerous) food practices before we take more proactive steps."