At 38,000 feet in the air, somewhere over the Eastern Pacific Ocean, I woke up. I was flying from South America back to Dallas and I was scared. The physical symptoms that were brewing inside me were unlike any I had ever experienced before. My heart was racing and I didn’t know why. I felt like I was going to spontaneously combust as I sat there, sweating in my seat. Everyone seemed to be asleep on the flight except me. With what was about to happen, that was probably a good thing.
On that seven hour flight, I was fortunately able to maintain control of my emotional sanity, but there were other parts of me that I could not control. As the plane touched down in Dallas, I had made eleven trips to the bathroom and had lost a lot of fluids to say the least.
Rewind 6-8 hours. I was eating roasted chicken prior to my flight. The chicken was well cooked and hot when it arrived in front of me. The fries were also hot. As I dipped the fries in the trio of sauces that were on the table, I did note that they were not cold and even slightly warm. My hunger and the flavors of the sauces put any thoughts of danger out of my head. Without any testing of the food, it is hard to definitively say it was the sauces, but all indications were pointing in that direction.
Let alone the potentially very serious/deadly effects of foodborne illness, it is even more troubling when you eat something very delicious and it comes back to haunt you. It’s times like those that I never forget the meals that I had before I got sick. I use meals plural because foodborne illnesses take different amounts of time to present in our systems. It may be fruitless, and unnecessarily damaging to restaurants, for people to immediately get online and spout off on the review site of choice to let the world know you got sick at XYZ restaurant. In fact, it may have been that restaurant or it may have been one of the other restaurants you ate at during the last 12+ hours that made you sick. Pinning foodborne illness on a restaurant is not as clear cut as we would like.
In the U.S. we have systems in place to report and address these types of things. In most Latin American countries, those systems are in their infancy or do not exist. This is one more reason why restaurants in Latin America do not get a lot of foodborne illness outbreaks assigned to them because the systems are not in place to take consumers complaints and then investigate and enforce poor food safety practices. For many travelers, they are often moving on to the next town, so it’s difficult for the traveler to notify the restaurant if they have already moved on.
In Part 2, I’ll look at a disturbing trend that we witness in Latin American restaurants when someone does report a problem. Until then, we at Cocina Verify are working to bring travelers more safe dining options in Latin America and beyond. Trust Standards, Not Reviews!