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Wake inspectors look for food-borne illness risk factors

No one wants to go out to eat and come home with food poisoning. A new report identifies some risk factors that area restaurants need to address.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — No one wants to go out to eat and come home with food poisoning. A new report identifies some risk factors that area restaurants need to address.

Wake County inspectors examined 458 randomly selected facilities, including restaurants, school and hospital cafeterias, nursing homes and delis.

They looked for the six risk factors the Food and Drug Administration has determined have the greatest impact on food-borne illness. The results show two risk areas need work.

Ambulances lined up in February after 150 students attending a YMCA conference at the downtown Raleigh Convention Center became sick. Five went to the hospital. Health officials suspect it was due to chicken that wasn't cooked and handled properly.

Last December, 280 people reported getting sick after eating at Raleigh's 42nd Street Oyster Bar. Several tested positive for Norovirus, which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Oysters from Louisiana were implicated.

About 10 people became violently ill after eating at Raleigh restaurant EVOO, which has closed. Anchovies contaminated with a fish toxin were the likely cause. The anchovies were later recalled.

“Probably a quarter of us are sick from food every year. It's just (that) we don't make the connection,” said Wake County Environmental Health Director Andre Pierce.

Pierce’s team assessed risk factors that are most likely to cause food-borne illness. One area that proved lacking was date marking open foods and then throwing them out after seven days. Pierce says that's critical for preventing sickness, but not yet part of state rules.

“Once a commercial product is opened or prepared, food is put back in the refrigerator and it's left for over seven days. That gives that bug enough time to grow to a level that can cause someone to be sick,” Pierce said.

Personal hygiene was also an area of concern. The team found most restaurants don't have a policy about what symptoms keep a sick employee from working. The state doesn't require this either.

“As you know, a number of our outbreaks are Norovirus and we know if someone has vomiting or diarrhea they should not be preparing food because they can transmit their illness to other folks,” Pierce said.

Most restaurants observed had employees who didn't wash their hands when they should or had bare hand contact with ready-to-serve food.

“It's a risk factor that can simply be addressed with tongs, deli papers, gloves, and I think the public expects it,” Pierce said.

The state is in the process of adopting the FDA's rules, which address some of the areas of concern. They should take effect in 2012.



Monica Laliberte, Reporter
Greg Clark, Photographer
Kelly Hinchcliffe, Web Editor

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