It was Day 2 or Day 3 of culinary school when I paused in my reading for Safety and Sanitation class to wonder if I would ever eat in a restaurant again.
It seemed that between chemical cleaners and clostridium, botulism and bacillus cereus, E.coli and employee carelessness, one's chances of getting sick from what I have learned to refer to as food-borne pathogens are pretty high.
In actuality, they aren't very high. And that's the point -- and result -- of the California Culinary Academy, other culinary schools, the food-service industry and governmental agencies emphasizing safety and sanitation.
It is the first class that culinary students take. It includes not only all the lessons but the requirement for passage of the ServSafe examination to be certified as a food industry worker.
Safety and Sanitation instructor Chef John Meidinger is straightforward about the need for what I call strategic cleanliness in the workplace: "You kill bacteria two ways: heat and chemicals. I don't want to put my meat in a chlorine marinade, so I will use heat to kill bacteria; that's called cooking."
Everyone has a story to tell about some restaurant mishap or carelessness -- mine is finding a hunk of wire embedded in ahi tuna at a high-end Tucson restaurant. But considering that we Americans spend more eating out these days than we do on groceries to eat at home, and only a miniscule number become ill, the industry does a darn good job of keeping it clean.
This class is an eye opener, yet at the same time provides positive motivation to me to contribute to the culture of cleanliness.