One of the leading causes of illness is food poisoning. There are over 1.4 million cases of Salmonella poisoning in the US each year – most are from food. And there are about 74,000 cases of E coli poisoning per year - 59,000 of which are from food. The cost of medical care for food poisoning? $378 million for E coli alone and $152 billion – you read that right – a year total for foodborne disease in the United States.
And almost all of this disease is avoidable. The E coli cases are often caused by food workers not washing their hands after going to the bathroom. And the Salmonella cases commonly result from placing cooked food on surfaces where raw chicken sat. Both of these bacteria can cause severe diarrhea and fever, and can be deadly in weakened people like children, the elderly, and those with other diseases.
Unlike many other diseases, foodborne illness is entirely preventable. If those dangerous bacteria were purple colored, restaurants would clean better, because people would see purple stains all over their food and around the restaurant. But because they’re invisible, restaurants are getting away with murder.
How to clean up restaurants? It starts with management that does not tolerate sloppiness. But even with health laws in place, penalties are not forceful enough, mostly because it is difficult for the public to find out which restaurants are filthy - the reports are well hidden. So, here's a case where the public needs to be protected by stronger regulations. The heavy hand of the law needs to come down hard on dirty restaurants.
This summer, New York City joined California at grading restaurants A, B, and C on their cleanliness. The grades will soon be posted in their windows. That allows you, the consumer, to vote with your dollars. Clean restaurants with an A deserve your dollars. But if you see a B or C, unless you like spending time on the toilet, stay away from those joints.
The rest of the country should rapidly follow New York and California’s lead.