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"Dishwasher Confidential: Food Poisoning?" Part 2


Eric Renderking Fisk - March 4th, 2008  Bookmark and Share


Potty Training For Adults and Unclean Cooks?

2008 WinterA week later, The Middle Eastern Deli was closed for good because so many people had complained and the more new cases of Hepatitis and food poisoning had been reported. The words "Outbreak" and "Epidemic" was thrown around a lot in one of the local papers. That day, everyone at the restaurant where I worked had been called in for an emergency meeting.

The first month while working at The Valdez Fields, and I'm at a company meeting about simple, basic hygiene stuff I'm teach my 3 1/2 old son now... There was Billy Presley Hazelwood standing with a very stern looking woman while we all sat around the bar area. Hazelwood told us that we all had to listen to her and pay attention.

I'm 21 years old, I graduated High School and looking forward to taking night courses from a local community college again that autumn... and I'm being taught again how to use the toilet and wash my hands after I'm done... again.

"Remember - Hepatitis is spread through Fecal - Oral contact. Or though blood," the woman from The Health Department said. "Again, Hepatitis is a Fecal-Oral Disease." Meanwhile, Hazelwood is at the bar serving himself up a Gin and Tonic... It was a very surreal if not nightmarish scene.

Since this is such a high profile case and our lives were literally at stake, she explained to us that one of the cooks and food preparers across the street used to clean his bottom with his bare left hand after using the toilet, as is the custom where he's from. The worst part, I guess... is the lack of use of a sink. That's just a minor infraction, right?

I thought that I heard enough, until everyone else heard descriptions of the the feces on the walls, on the sides of the toilets, and other things found in the kitchen. I have no idea why we were told until she said that the filth that covered some part of the restaurant contained high levels of diseases, including Hepatitis.

Then, while passing around cards with her number, she said that if any of us had eaten anything from across the street or had intimate contact with anyone who worked there, please give her a call. All eyes turned towards Stephanie. Not a word had been spoken.

Well, Ike said something after the meeting broke up: "Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase: 'Eat Shit and Die,' doesn't it?"

Even after pressure from all of us, Stephanie didn't call The Health Department. There were a few days that were pretty tense, some told Hazelwood that they weren't working there until "someone" told The Health Department "the truth," while others just quit their jobs. When Stephanie got sick, I know of three people other then myself call The Health Department. I only called to tell them what I saw, but some of our fellow co-workers panicked and dropped the dime. We were all tested.

A lot of people went through pain, suffering and lost wages because Stephanie kept her secret to herself. Many of us were angry with her, and some out-right hated her. If she had a disease, what were the chances that she might have given it to the rest of us?

Now, flash forward a week later or so after that... and the sign on the at The Valdez Fields didn't say "Closed" any more - it said "Closed until further notice," or something to the effect. Two restaurants on the same street, across the way from each other and in walking distance from others were closed, quarantined.

That was a rough summer for some of the restaurants in that area of town, some locked their doors and remained closed for a few days as some members of the staff cleaned every inch while others went to the hospital to get blood drawn. I had by blood taken twice, at the beginning of summer and at the end of summer and both times I was tested negative for Hepatitis.

Like I wrote, the restaurant across the street never re-opened. The space was cleaned out and for about a year you could walk around the corner of the building and see the vast area that was vacant. Much later, a Chinese family moved in and opened what can only be described as tragic case of Guilt by Association. The food was awesome, the interior was repainted and had a very antiseptic but clean feel. But I'm not sure that they were open much longer after I left town a few years later.

It was later revealed through someone that used to work at The Middle Eastern Restaurant that the employee who had unhealthy habits was diagnosed with a serious mental illness and was locked away until his Liver failed and died. Sympathy, anyone?

Seriously... This Isn't The First Time.

A casual reader might look at that and say, "Well, Fisk is embellishing the facts here," or "Fisk has to be telling a story here." Truth is, I wish I were making this up. The only facts I've stretched here are the ones that protect the innocent, or me from any silly law suit games.

Via Google I just looked up the name of the town and "Hepatitis" with the year this all happened, and wouldn't you know it, there's an archive to the story from one of the news papers that broke the story. This story occurred BEFORE the internet went main-stream, so someone went back and put this on the net because it was important enough...

There's even a brief word or two about Stephanie, who was "a waitress who's name wasn't disclosed," but was diagnosed with something other then Hepatitis. I know for a fact she was ok after this incident because I was one of the few co-workers who were at her wedding a short time later. Must have been more then a year or two after the Hepatitis scare ... I remember Turtle and Pig Virus crying because they couldn't go to the reception, and being called a prick by one of them for saying "Why do you insist on going where we weren't invited."

Fact was, despite the curt retort, I was happy for the bride and groom and I hope they're still doing fine and are still together.

Afterwards, in February of '92, some of us got really sick, and all at the same time. It was one of those periods of my life that I thought I was going to really die, and if not I was going to lose my job at The Valdez Fields since I had to miss a couple of days.

I can clearly remember being in just sweat pants, wool socks and my fedora, leaning against the wall by the bathroom, and in too much pain to movie. I can tell you that the wall smelt like paint, and a touch of peppermint. I remember the vomit starting to come from my mouth in a little dribble before I made it to the toilet and the deluge that occurred when I was finally over the bowl.

I fought with my memory  trying to remember where I got this. Could it have been The Valdez Fields? I remember, maybe even correctly, that some of us went out to eat after work to another restaurant and we picked up some other nasty bug. It could have been anywhere. Some college towns are just inherently filthy because of the turn-over of employees.

I might not be able to remember correctly since it's been more then 15 years, but the reputation of the Health Department was that of someone who kept a toe in the pool of Omnipotence: if word got out that more then one of us was sick, that meant that there was going to be another visit to The Valdez Fields...

It's almost unheard of in some towns for the health department to show up to a restaurant more then once every few years. The Valdez Fields didn't just have annual visits, there were some years that it had several visits in one year alone. This is where I explain to some of you that his is how I came up with the idea to find another job and hold that one while still working at The Valdez Fields, I could have easily have been one of the scapegoats along with Turtle or Ike, or anyone else that worked there in that kitchen and pulled Dishwasher duty once in a while.

There were days that I showed up at 2PM to do prep-work for the night and someone would just say as I entered the door "Health Department was here," and that meant automatically the place was shut down for a couple of days and we would all be either cleaning our asses off, pay-less mandatory vacation, or someone was going to get fired. I always imagined it would be me, and after many different times after this happened, I hoped it would be mean just that - Death is sometimes a welcome relief to those who have a prolonged suffering.

I wish I would get fired, because that would mean I would be free to tell the Health Department what else went on there. I wanted to squeal, but I also needed to keep this job.

And, while I was on the internet I found a page where local students can write reviews for local restaurants and wouldn't you know it, there's a rap sheet that's three pages long about The Valdez Fields... and how it's both a filthy and over-priced place to eat.

Move On To Part 3

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