Leigh Hopper of the Houston Chronicle reports that Marvin Zindler, the 84-year-old newscaster famous, according to this story, for turning restaurant inspections into a dramatic staple of Channel 13’s evening news is not a fan of the city’s new online reports.
Launched Wednesday, the Web site (www.houstonhealth.org) offers a snapshot of a restaurant’s operations observed during unannounced inspections. And like a snapshot, the image isn’t always flattering.
For example, upscale Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen on West Gray was cited for 12 violations during a May 27 visit. Problems found included “Ice for consumer use being dispensed by the consumer,” “Kitchenware … not washed, rinsed and sanitized” and “Food … not protected from cross-contamination.”
Some phrases for serious restaurant violations that could impact your health, and what they mean:
Ice for consumer use being dispensed by the consumer.” Translation: Fingers and hands in the ice.
Food … not protected from cross-contamination.” Translation: Germs from raw beef could spread to sushi.
Kitchenware … not washed, rinsed and sanitized after each use.” Translation: Knives used to slice raw chicken, then tomatoes for salad could spread bacteria.
Mollusk/crustacean shells being reused as a serving container.” Translation: Germs from oyster shells could spread from diner to diner.
Employee drinking from an open beverage container in a manner which contaminates employee’s hands.” Translation: Good way to pass along a gastrointestinal bug.
Sounds unpleasant, but what does it mean?
Porfirio Villarreal, spokesman for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, which conducts the inspections, was quoted as saying, “It gives you an indication of the attention that was paid to particular practices that are going to keep people from developing an illness. It just gives you a hint … You’re not clueless.”
Or as Chirag Bhatt, the city Health Department’s chief of consumer health services, said, “Chances are if you see something wrong today, six months later you may see it again.”
The story says that the purpose of the food establishment inspections — the Health Department inspects 12,500 restaurants, grocery stores and other food businesses each year — is to prevent foodborne illness, a major public health challenge. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 Americans are hospitalized with foodborne illnesses each year, and 5,000 die.
Houston epidemiologists are currently tracking a cluster of cases of listeriosis, a potentially deadly bacterial illness linked with contaminated food, particularly cheeses made with raw milk.
Zindler, who said the seafood restaurant’s report was “a pretty bad one,” is concerned the public won’t be able to wade through the technical language on the Web site or interpret the information in a meaningful way. He’s not sure consumers know something as minor as a dirty can opener could contaminate an entire restaurant.