The hotline is lighting up with calls about some suspicious seafood. Detective Foodsafe™ is alerted and gets right on the trail of something fishy.
“Detective Foodsafe, we need you! Please come by the office as soon as you can because it seems like there is something fishy going on at a restaurant on the river!”
Detective Foodsafe gets ready for the debriefing. Notebook in hand and pencil at the ready to jot the details down for her investigation, the scene unfolds.
Foodsafe Hotline Calls for Help!
The Foodsafe hotline takes calls nationwide from victims of suspicious food illness or unsafe food handling practices. Most are consumers who have gotten sick after eating foods prepared by a variety of sources, all of which were thought to be safe.
Today’s hotline crisis involves a local restaurant on the river that is serving some potentially unsafe seafood.
Caller #1 “I went to this restaurant, Fish by the River (not its real name) and had dinner. I am from out of town and thought it looked OK from the outside. It was recommended in the tour book. My husband and I ordered different items. I am the only one that got sick. I had stomach pains and eventually began losing my dinner around 2 am, which was about eight hours or so after we ate. I had scallops and shrimp in what was supposed to be a garlic butter sauce but turned out to be a congealed white sauce. For the money we paid, it really wasn’t very appetizing. The worst part is how it made me sick. I wanted someone to know to check it out so no more people get sick.”
Caller #2 “Hello, I want to report something suspicious at a restaurant my family visited over the weekend on the river. It was called Fish by the River. I know this might sound strange, it has never happened to me before but both my forearms are red and painful. I think it might be from something I ate at that restaurant. I had shrimp and mussels in a spicy sauce. I love hot and spicy food so I don’t think it could be that but maybe it was the fish. What can I do about this redness?”
Caller #3 “I want to let someone know that it seems like something isn’t right at that restaurant on River Street called Fish by the River. I have eaten there a few times before with out of town guests and everything seemed fine. But this time a group of us went and our food seemed to have an unusual smell. My friend got shrimp scampi and it definitely didn’t smell right. My salad was fine and our friend had tilapia which seemed fine. Since we all agreed that it smelled off, my friend sent it back to the kitchen. We should have been worried when our dinner menus were all covered in food stains. It seems like that place has gotten a bit run down. I hope no one eats bad food there and gets sick. I thought I should call and let someone know about it. Thank you for checking into that restaurant.”
After getting these calls and more, Detective Foodsafe decided an investigation was needed.
The Fishy Investigation
Detective Foodsafe hurries to inspect the kitchen of the Fish by the River restaurant and interviews employees to determine whether they are being trained properly in safe food handling techniques. What she finds is disturbing and calls for quick action!
Detective Foodsafe enters the kitchen around 10:30 am, when the lunch preparation and some dinner preparations are already underway. Cooks scurry around the kitchen chopping onions, salad greens and other items. At the next station she spots a case of shrimp sitting on top of the counter with no cook in site.
When the staff person cutting the vegetables was asked about the crate of shrimp, he replied “oh, that is out so it can finish thawing before the chef comes in at noon to make the dishes for dinner.” Detective Foodsafe asks the staff person if other seafood is thawed on the counter he replies “no that is the only kind we leave out. The rest of the seafood has time to thaw in the refrigerator because we don’t use as much. We use a lot of shrimp though.”
Detective Foodsafe asks if they always do this and he answered “usually on the weekend when we go through a lot of shrimp, during the week it has time to thaw in the cooler.We just started doing this, it was the new guy’s idea.”
Detective Foodsafe was able to see that the staff person cutting vegetables washed his hands properly and used the appropriate cutting boards for each product. When the refrigerator and freezer temperatures were inspected, they were all acceptable.
Next comes the room where the dishes are washed. Detective Foodsafe checks the temperature of the wash water and sees that this restaurant is keeping a log and the current rinse temperature did get to 180 degrees so all the correct cleaning and sanitizing is occurring on the plates and silver.
The kitchen is pretty clean at this time of day and no other foods are left unrefrigerated. A review of the food storage both dry and cold seems to be in order except for how they are thawing the shrimp. A report would be made to the Health Department officials and restaurant manager so that proper food thawing procedures are taught to the staff.
The manager will be asked to evaluate all Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) guidelines to be sure no gaps in safe food handling occur.
It is because diligent people reported problems with fishy fish – in this case shrimp – to the hotline, that unsafe food handling was uncovered and corrected. Detective Foodsafe reminds us that it is important to handle vulnerable foods like seafood correctly to prevent foodborne illness.
Detective Foodsafe closes the books on another case and will stay on the lookout for the next food emergency.
Dangers of Fishy Seafood
Seafood is especially dangerous when not handled properly. It needs to be kept at the right temperature. Detective Foodsafe always worries about people who enjoy eating raw or under cooked seafood, especially pregnant women, young children and older adults. It is a common source of foodborne illness and everyone should follow these guidelines:
- Fish should always smell fresh and not fishy, sour or like ammonia.
- Whole fish should be firm with a shiny skin.
- Fillets should have a consistent color with no dark spots.
- The flesh should not have any dry spots or edges.
- Most refrigerated/frozen seafood has date indicators and should not be used if these indicators are past due or expired.
- Shellfish should only be purchased from an approved, certified vendor who meets national seafood safety controls (the processors certificate will be on the label).
- Frozen seafood that has been thawed during shipping or handling should not be used.
- Avoid torn or crushed packages or seafood with signs of frost as it might have been thawed and re-frozen. These products could be contaminated or stored at improper temperatures.
- Use fresh, refrigerated seafood within 2 days or freeze in tightly wrapped containers.
- Raw and cooked seafood should always be stored separately. Avoid cross contamination between raw seafood and ready to eat foods. Keep work surfaces cleaned with hot water between raw and prepared foods. Always wash hands after handling raw seafood.
- Cook seafood to an internal temperature of 145 degrees and test with food thermometer.
- Keep cooked seafood out of the Temperature Danger Zone (40 – 140 degrees) and store leftovers within two hours.
- If eating raw seafood, it is best to eat items that have been frozen to help kill microorganisms that are present. Freezing will not kill all harmful bacteria so it is safest to eat it cooked.