Donald Trump’s private Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago, has been in the news lately, as the president hosts various foreign dignitaries at the estate. But just days before Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, restaurant inspectors cited the club for a host of food violations, including dangerous handling of raw fish and meats stored at temperatures that were too high.
According to the Miami Herald, inspectors cited the swanky club’s kitchen for 13 violations. Three of the violations were listed as “high priority” because they posed a risk of infecting diners with food-borne illnesses.
Here were the biggest violations:
▪ Fish that was supposed be served raw or undercooked hadn’t been put through proper parasite destruction. (Members of the staff were told to either cook it immediately or toss it.)
▪ Two of the club’s coolers had raw meats that were above the recommended maximum temperature of 41 degrees. Chicken was 49 degrees, duck and raw beef was at 50 degrees, and ham was at 57 degrees.
▪ The two coolers were not in proper working order.
There were other less severe violations, like not having hot-enough water in a sink where employees washed their hands and rusted shelves inside walk-in coolers.
The violations sound pretty bad, but Darin Detwiler, D.L.P., assistant dean at the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University and a professor of food policy, tells Yahoo Beauty that they’re not uncommon. “Food not being held at the right temperature is one of the most frequent violations at restaurants,” he says. And, he points out, it doesn’t matter if you visit a high-end restaurant or budget-friendly chain — it happens. “This is a good example that money does nothing in terms of preventing a food-borne pathogen,” he says.
Benjamin Chapman, PhD, an assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, agrees. “If you went to any online restaurant inspection database, it wouldn’t take you long to find these types of violations,” he says. “They’re not out-of-this-world violations.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t make you sick. Fish that hasn’t undergone parasite destruction (which Chapman says is usually via freezing) can increase your risk of being infected by a parasite if you eat it raw or at undercooked temperatures. Mike Doyle, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, tells Yahoo Beauty that becoming ill from eating raw or undercooked fish is no joke. “Symptoms of illness caused by fish-borne parasite infections can range from abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and weakness to … appendicitis-like manifestations,” he says. “Reports of tapeworm infections in patients that have eaten raw salmon sushi indicate the passage of a 4-foot long tapeworm several weeks after consuming the contaminated fish.”
Failure to store raw meat at the appropriate temperatures increases the odds that diners could get salmonella or E. coli, Detwiler says, noting that the danger zone is between 41 and 140 degrees. Allowing raw meat to sit at this temperature allows pathogens to grow wildly, increasing the odds that they’ll make a person who eats them sick. “The longer that food is held at temperatures in that danger zone, the faster and more likely the pathogens are to multiply and grow,” Detwiler says. “It’s like Russian roulette — you’re just putting more bullets in those chambers.” Doyle says that holding meat and poultry at unsafe temperatures is a “serious public health hazard that can result in harmful microbes growing to levels that could cause severe illness, especially in the young, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.”
However, Chapman says it’s “unlikely” that food was going to end up on someone’s plate because spoilage happens at those temperatures — it’s likely the meat would have started to look or smell funny. “It might have been that the coolers had just broken and the inspector happened to come out,” he said.
As for water temperatures not being particularly hot for hand washing, Chapman says it’s not a huge deal. “There’s quite a bit of research that shows water temperature isn’t a factor in removing pathogens during hand washing,” he says.
Experts stress that it really doesn’t matter if a restaurant is expensive or not — these kinds of violations are common. To keep yourself safe when you dine out, Chapman recommends looking up a restaurant’s food inspection records online and taking a look at a few since each inspection only offers a snapshot in time. “If there has been a repeat violation, that says to me that they don’t know how to handle a particular area of food safety,” he says. If you find that’s the case at a restaurant you were considering visiting, it’s probably time to look for another one.
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