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Three Restaurant Observations that Will Blow Your Mind

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It’s been two years since my initial travels to Latin America. During 2015, I traveled to Latin America seven times and unfortunately got sick on five of those trips. Finally the lightbulb went off in my head. I was tired of online reviews and travel guides leading me into restaurants that made me sick. For countries that don’t have strong food safety standards and enforcement, online review sites and anyone giving restaurant reviews for that matter, could very easily be steering you into restaurants that possess dangerous conditions in their kitchens. The problem lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority of these reviews do not take into account what is going on in the kitchen. That’s just one way that reviews fail the public.

So what are the main reasons why there’s a higher incidence of foodborne illness in these areas? For starters, hand washing in restaurants does not happen nearly as often as it should. Lack of proper handwashing by food handlers is the number one cause of foodborne illness. This leads us to our first observation that is quite shocking. After two years of our team visiting restaurants in Latin America, I can estimate, with relatively high confidence, that the percentage of restaurant kitchens in Latin America that do not have a dedicated sink for handwashing is probably over 80%. That makes it even harder for restaurant employees to prepare your food with clean hands.

 

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Next, there have been a couple of small scientific studies that suggest that the temperature of the water may not impact the effectiveness of handwashing. Nevertheless, hot water assists with cleaning fats and grease in kitchens as well as helping the effectiveness of some sanitizing agents. With that said, here is my second observation. I can estimate, with relatively high confidence, that the percentage of restaurants in Latin America that do not have hot water in their kitchens is probably at least 75%. That is a big number, but there are relatively few restaurants in Latin America that have hot water in their kitchens.

 

Finally, a hand washing sink and hot water are two important components for food safety in restaurants. There is a third item that is of vital importance in keeping you safe while at a restaurant. With high turnover and usage of dishes, cooking vessels, and utensils, it is vital that restaurants sanitize these items between uses. Now, my third and final observation. I can estimate, with relatively high confidence, that the percentage of restaurants in Latin America that are not regularly sanitizing their cooking items and utensils is probably at least 85%. Without properly sanitizing these items between uses, the risk of foodborne illness increases because bacteria and viruses are being given a free pass to wreak havoc your digestive tract. Restaurant bars are notorious for doing quick rinses on glassware and then serving the glasses to the next patron. That’s not good enough.

 

Finally, a hand washing sink and hot water are two important components for food safety in restaurants. There is a third item that is of vital importance in keeping you safe while at a restaurant. With high turnover and usage of dishes, cooking vessels, and utensils, it is vital that restaurants sanitize these items between uses. Now, my third and final observation. I can estimate, with relatively high confidence, that the percentage of restaurants in Latin America that are not regularly sanitizing their cooking items and utensils is probably at least 85%. Without properly sanitizing these items between uses, the risk of foodborne illness increases because bacteria and viruses are being given a free pass to wreak havoc your digestive tract. Restaurant bars are notorious for doing quick rinses on glassware and then serving the glasses to the next patron. That’s not good enough.

 

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There is a silver lining to these troubling observations. All Cocina Verify restaurants have hot water in their kitchens, a dedicated hand washing sink, and also regularly sanitize their dishes. Choose Cocina Verify restaurants and Trust Standards, Not Reviews!

 

P.S. the need for safe drinking water in restaurants will be covered in a future blog.