Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Detective Foodsafe™ Exposes a Food Recall – The Case of The Dirty Salad Bar Lettuce

Detective Foodsafe™ Exposes a Food Recall – The Case of The Dirty Salad Bar Lettuce

The move is on to cook and eat more of our meals at home instead of relying on fast food and convenience items.

Sure, it’s good for our family’s budget but there is more to it than that.

We are buying more fresh foods and cooking from scratch.

We want to cook our own foods so we can control what goes into our meals and also serve the healthiest food we can to our families.

Foods that are contaminated by any type of illness causing organism before they enter our kitchen is very upsetting to today’s cooks.

It seems like every day there is a new food recall for something we regularly buy for our family meals, just like this one that Detective Foodsafe™ recently uncovered.

One of Detective Foodsafe’s Favorite Eateries

Another call comes in to the hotline and Detective Foodsafe is back on the trail of a food crisis. This time she is called to a salad bar restaurant in the middle of town.

Detective Foodsafe finds her way there quickly since she knows exactly where the restaurant is located. It’s one of her favorite meal spots.

She loves to eat healthy foods and the wide-ranging salad bar gives her the opportunity to pick just what she wants each time.

On the way over, Detective Foodsafe wonders to herself what could be the problem because that restaurant always seems like such a clean place, where the management watches the employees and the customers to be sure the food is kept fresh and safe.

There is never any food sitting for hours without being monitored for proper temperature and they never pour new items over the top of old items. The utensils are clean and there is always a spoon for every kind of food.

Restaurant Foodborne Illness

She feels pretty comfortable with the cleanliness and food safety practices of this establishment which is another reason she eats there frequently.

She is a discerning diner!

But . . . 

Today’s call reports that almost twelve people have complained of symptoms of food borne illness after eating in one of her favorite dining locations.

All twelve have the same symptoms and timeline.

It is time for Detective Foodsafe to turn the tables and go behind the serving line to see how the staff really is handling the food and maintaining the cleanliness to see what is making patrons ill.

What Is Lurking In the Kitchen?

Detective Foodsafe begins her inspection at the refrigerators. She inspected the thermometers both inside and out but they all had readings within the proper temperature zone.

Next she looked at the food in the coolers. All the pans were labeled and dated, covered well, and stored in the right order with no raw food mingling with cooked food. She didn’t see anything amiss in the coolers. Cutting boards were color coded and used appropriately.

Detective Foodsafe went on to the staff and asked them specific questions, such as when do they wear gloves, how do they clean the salad bar line, and when do they record temperatures. What happens if the temperatures are in the danger zone?

She also reviewed their documentation and found that they closely followed their cleaning schedule and HACCP plan so that safe food handling practices became habit for these employees.

But People Are Getting Sick!

What was making people sick?

None of the employees have been ill themselves lately. She questioned whether any of them had eaten the food from the serving line. It was restaurant policy that employees weren’t allowed to eat off the salad bar, so no one reported eating any of the company food or being sick recently.

Employees were allowed to drink the beverages, so apparently this wasn’t the source of the illness.

Detective Foodsafe isn’t finding anything to point to trouble in her inspection so she begins to take samples of every food in the coolers and pantry.

After tagging and bagging them all, she returns to the office and heads to the lab to test for a source of the illness.

And The Lab Says…

There were almost 100 different food items tested in the lab for a variety of food contaminants, such as E. coli, listeria, clostridium botulinum, campylobacter, salmonella, norovirus, shigella, vibrio and staphylococcus organisms.

All of the food tested came back negative . . . except for one type of lettuce served at the salad bar. There were four different kinds of lettuce served but only one of those showed levels of listeria organisms.

Bagged lettuce packaged by a plant out of state was contaminated and the source of the illnesses.

Detective Foodsafe contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as she always does when an outbreak needs to be reported.

She found that the packaged lettuce bags infected with listeria found at the restaurant were not the only ones found by the CDC. In fact, all lettuce packed in that particular plant were contaminated.

The CDC went on to stop all production at that plant and recall all bags of lettuce sold from it.

What About Your Kitchen?

Detective Foodsafe was able to remove contaminated lettuce from that salad bar restaurant and sent notices to all the restaurants in the area to remove similar lettuce products from the menu so that no other customers would become sickened.

The problem now is what about your kitchen? How do you learn about food recalls which seem to happen all too often?

It seems that our food supply contains contaminated foods on a regular basis. If it isn’t organisms from harvest or production, it is mislabeling of foods containing allergens or contaminants such as wire or glass in our food.

We need to pay close attention to the media to learn about alerts and recalls.

Technology Alerts on the Horizon

Wouldn’t it be great if our grocery loyalty cards that we use each week to get reward and discounts that track our every purchase for advertising and trending be used to communicate when we bought something that was recalled?

If a food we bought last week was recalled or an alert announced due to an allergen, we would be emailed by the company or manufacturer to give us details about returning the item to the store. They know what we buy and can tell us when it is bad.

They could go one step further and refund our purchase price for a recalled food and credit our loyalty card so when we shop next time, it will automatically be removed from our bills.

Wow, that would be a great way to use the grocery loyalty card we carry everywhere. The technology is certainly capable of completing the loop for our families’ health and well-being.

We would be much more loyal to a store that looked out for our wellness not to mention that we would be fully informed so that we can protect our families health!

As always, Detective Foodsafe will keep you informed!

2 Responses to Detective Foodsafe™ Exposes a Food Recall – The Case of The Dirty Salad Bar Lettuce

  1. Excellent article! Makes me also aware that churches and other organizations should be very careful about their kitchens and the personnel that work in them. Even a small group lunch or snack could be contaminated because the people who previously used the kitchen didn’t properly clean the cutting boards, counters, and other utensils. Thanks for making me more aware!

    • Thanks Diane! You are right on the mark! Everywhere food is prepared, especially where older adults are concerned, should be very attentive to their food handling practices. There are courses that food handlers can take to improve their knowledge and skills that I recommend for those responsible for preparing food in any commercial kitchen including faith based organizations and camp settings. Kudos to your proactive approach!

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