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Temperature Paranoia And The Danger Zone: What's Happening In The BOH?

Sep 10, 2013


The news is grim, the fear lives on, and wouldn't you know it, Friday the 13th is on the horizon. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,  food temperature was listed as the most common violation for 140 restaurants  in Milwaukee during July and August. Health inspectors found this violation in approximately 40 out of the 140 restaurant checks, a near 30% clip. Without diving through the squeamish details, it's clear that temperature control is an ongoing challenge for restaurants and their owners.

It begs the question: How can you be sure that your next lunch or dinner dwelling has recently passed this type of health check? Cloth napkins and decorated storefronts can be misleading and frankly, this type of news seems to surface on a regular basis. Take the recent Clover Food Labs mishap for example, a living lesson in the dangers of food storage temperatures and losses. Temperature@lert contacted Clover Food Labs about implementation of a possible solution, and regardless of the outcome, we hope that Clover decides on a safe and reliable solution for their storage operations.

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We've written before about the misleading storefronts of Food Trucks, and we've talked about the challenge of erasing "roach coach" assumptions to convince patrons that specialized trucks are trusted sources of quality meals. For their purposes, image goes a long way.

But what about your local sub shop or cheap slice hideaway? When you make a commitment to these establishments, your focus is more on the bang for the buck, rather than any health concerns that may be apparent. Think of a pizza "hot box", wherein the slices-to-go might sit for an extended period of time. How can you be sure that these boxes maintain safe temperatures for the pizza, and further, how often are they cleaned? Does the shop seem to have an older unit that provides no digital readout of real-time temperature? What about the employees and walk-in freezers; have they been properly trained to watch out for temperature fluctuations or possible malfunctions? Is there even a reliable device or thermometer that can be used to check? 

These questions, and many others, are part of the paranoia news wave based around temperature control, and frankly, some of the answers may be less than desirable. The strive for perfection in a small pizza shop may be to produce quality food for a budget price, but are the food storage practices being ignored as a result? How safe do you feel in these places, despite friendly counter staff and a solid Yelp! reputation? When line cooks venture into the walk-in freezer to grab the needed ingredients, is the dilapidated kitchen a sign of danger? If you've seen Restaurant Impossible, you've seen the lion's share of violations and poor cleaning habits, from dirty filters to unwashed utensils. Do these visible dangers instantly translate to storage temperature concerns? Not necessarily, and assumptions based on image are always unfair and unwarranted, but the news speaks for itself, and it's hard to be reassured in some of the lower-budget establishments.

In any case, when your personal health is at stake, it's good to have a bit of weariness when eating out on a slim budget. We don't suggest calling your local health department to report any "possible problem" based on one particular incident or noticeable problem, but remember that some restaurants are more responsible and cautious than others.

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