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"Dishwasher Confidential: Food Poisoning?" Part 3

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

What Does Food Poisoning feel like...

2008 WinterIt's hard to imagine, but I forgot that I had actually been through food poisoning before, and caught it while working at The Valdez Fields. Now, if I caught it at The Valdez Fields, I'm not too sure. As for this bout that I'm still fighting, (and some are concerned that I'm still working through this...) I can tell you the exact bite that started the trouble.

Sunday night we went out with friends to eat. The first two places were busy. The third place we went to seems to always have seating. This is not a good sign. /p>

The place is one of those establishments you would think Eric 'Renderking' Fisk should like - it looked like a old Colonial Lodge with Post-And-Beam walls and ceilings. It also had a slight western flair with Wagon Wheel chandeliers handing from up above. In a few regards, it had some of the old "Valdez Fields" flair to it since nobody I saw working was over the age of 40. The door to the kitchen and the area around it looked "sketchy," but I shrugged that off to my imagination and the age of the building.

Food Poisoning starts like it did for me this past Sunday night - by taking a bite and not being sure if something's quite right. If it's particularly rancid, anyone with common sense would spit it out. Not unless you're starving in an impoverished area could you be able to consume anything that's too far gone. If you're starving because you're homeless or somewhere food is scarce and other wise unavailable, you can manage to eat just about anything. Hunger does funny things to people and pride takes a vacation and might run-away with your intelligence.

For everyone else, the danger is eating something that's gone bad enough to make you sick, but not bad enough to make you stop eating it. So this Sunday night, I took a bite of Roast Pork that just wasn't "right," it was gamey. The second bite wasn't that bad and the rest seemed fine. I didn't think anything of it after that.

Later on, maybe in three hours, I felt both incredibly hungry and full at the same time. I felt incredibly tired and dizzy as if all the breathable air was taken out of the room. I was thinking Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and I went to where my kids were to check and see if they were alright, if their faces had turned blue and cold. Nope - both my sons were fine. They didn't eat what we had, except my youngest that ate part of a piece that turned out to be alright.

From 12:30 to 3:30 AM, my wife emptied out all the contents of her stomach. It's a horrible thing to picture, someone you love throwing up so violently. I could actually see bits of chewed up pork in her vomit. You would think that this would have made me sick enough myself to throw up. I gagged, but didn't produce anything.

Since then I've fought bouts of cold, and cramps that hit me like a bolt of lightning. Imagine the absolute worst hang-over where you're still feeling drunk the morning after, that's just one of the symptoms.

Then there are visits to the bathroom where everything in my bowels are emptied in one instant squat. The smells are hard to imagine with out conjuring up descriptions of toxic waste accidents and dead animals found in the crawl spaces of your house that had been there all winter. That's how bad it gets, and that's the price you pay for not choosing the right restaurant... not that you can help it.

Why All The Gross Talk? And Where Are We Going With This

This takes me back to when I was working at The Valdez Fields and this past Sunday Night: Violation of the public trust.

When you walk through the doors of any given restaurant, as either an employee or as a customer, you're literally putting your health and your lives in the hands of total strangers in exchange for some hard earned money (give or take, depending on your roll.) You might not even go through that thought process, you might just be thinking: "Hey, I'm really hungry... this looks like a great place." Or: "I'm so hungry, I'll even eat here."

You look at the menu, order something that sounds or reads appetizing and you wait. Maybe sipping drinks, making small talk with the people you're with or try to socialize with folks around you. You have hardly any idea of what goes on in the kitchen, in the walk-in refrigerator or even the employee's bathroom.

Trust me, if you knew what on in some employee's bathrooms, you would walk out there and prey that God would play arsonist with a flash of lightning and brimstone for good measure.

When the food comes out, you just assume that those involved in preparing your food had clean hands. You have no idea if the guy who made your salad is also pulling double-duty on the dish machine and had to clean the puke out of one of the rest-rooms like I had to more then once.

Did I or did I not wash my hands every time? At some point after working there for a while, my hands became raw and pealed because of all the times I washed them using anti-bacterial soap... but could you trust anyone else?

In the back of The Valdez Fields basement where some of the paper-goods and used beer bottles are kept, is the holding vat for the sewer. It's like a septic tank, or that might be what it's actually called. But rather then have the waste go out to a leach field, the contents of the tank would eventually drain out into the local sewer system.

There was a gap between the pipe that emptied into the vat, and the vat itself, so that when someone flushed a toilet or the dish washer ran, you could actually smell what was going on whether you wanted to or not, the contents would become a sick aerosol and air-borne particles would float through the air and land on your skin, clothes, hair and eventually your mouth and nose. I have no idea if this conditions still exists at that particular establishment, or why nobody at the Health Department ever caught that detai.

There was also the grease trap in the kitchen that nobody emptied until some of the contents would secrete along the edges of the lid. This only happened when the restaurant was busy, so the dish washer would be trying to alternate between handling clean dishes and clean this mess up with a shop-vac.

You don't ever want to be eating in a restaurant and hear a shop-vac in the background. Walk out... don't pay the check, just walk out.

How about the quality of the food. With gravy covering everything, that's an unknown factor. While working at The Valdez Fields, I've seen cooks so desperate to put a plate together that they took unused portions from plates that were supposed to cleaned off and put in the trash. I saw one cook take a head of lettuce that had been on the floor for days, peal off the rotten leafs and try to salvage what was left, only to be left saying "I can't serve this," then serve it anyway.

When things got so bad, cooks had to go up stairs (some forgetting to put on a clean apron) and tell customers they were sorry but some menu items were no longer available.

Sometimes it's not the quality of the food, it's the quality of the kitchen staff. I have to admit that because of my temper and horrible attitude, I was perhaps one of the worst employees at The Valdez Fields, next to Turtle who was just too stupid to know he was being used and had and every company needs a useful idiot to do things nobody else can.

No, seriously. My admiration for the owner and the management was out the window when I read one of the health code pamphlets for that particular state. After one of the closings, the Health Officer left copies and said that some of us would have to read it. I read it, three times in one weekend and kept notes on what we were doing wrong and what we didn't do at all. I went to Ray, the Day Manager and started in on him with this list, "Ray, Turtle doesn't do this, he doesn't do that, and I've never seen him do this other thing. We don't do this, don't do that, or the other thing, either..."

Ray looked at me and said: "Don't bother me with your troubles. Go to the boss with this. And after your fired, I'll buy you a beer." That ended the conversation real quick.

Ike, Turtle, another guy we called "Canoe," and his brother "Moose," all talked about this weeks later, after they had read the same rules I did. I think Turtle marked his by drawing Star Trek symbols on the front and back covers...

We all came to the same conclusion: Hazelwood would rather pay hundreds of dollars in fines before he could re-open and blame someone else for The Valdez Fields unhealthy conditions, instead of paying his employees the money it would take to insure they would do a good job and be motivated to keep their jobs, rather then rule by fear and rewarding his workers with free drinks after work.

The notion that there was an open pipe in the vat that lead out to the town sewer would bother most people - Hazelwood just shrugged it off as part of the charm of owning an older building. If The Valdez Fields was in any other town in 'the real world,' as one student reviewer at a local college wrote, it would have closed due to poor quality. If that reviewer only knew what went on beneath his or her feet in the basement-kitchen. The only things that's saved The Valdez Fields was the ignorance of it's customers, the result of his violation of "The Public Trust."

That reviewer has a point: if it weren't for the fact that The Valdez Fields wasn't one of the very few and rare "up-scale" restaurants in the small college town, the owner would be run out of town before someone set the building on fire again.

Other restaurant owners care about The Public Trust, they care about their customers. Not because of the vague concept of getting sued or losing their business, but because they have something called pride. If someone gets sick at your establishment, that person is going to tell someone less, like I'm telling you about how more then 15 years ago I got sick at a place where I worked and with the conditions as dirty as they were on occasion it's a mystery to me why more people didn't.

Just as I'm telling you that friends of ours took us to a place that seemed clean enough, but made us both sick by eating the Roast Pork that my wife had to take the next day off from work, and I'm "blogging" about it two days later. I could shut that establishment down just by posting the name and town where it's located, but for now I'm letting the Health Department of Sterling, Massachusetts handle the problem. People getting sick at restaurants doesn't just effect the people who are ill, or the restaurants owners and workers, or the Health Department officials that told me they'll investigate the restaurant my wife and I visited Sunday Night... (Yes, I did call.)

No, Restaurants effect other Restaurants, just as 15 years ago a Hepatitis Scare jumped from one establishment that was shut down to another one that should have been. Other restaurants along the same street were also effected, and I have no doubt that this contributed to a sales slump through out the town. People who had nothing to do with The Middle Eastern Deli in that college town back in the early 1990's felt a pinch when the town's reputation was tainted by the mere words of "Hepitisis," "Outbreak" and "Epidemic."

I'm sitting here, feeling like I'm starving but I have no urge to eat. I just weighed myself and I went from 165 pounds to 159 in a few days. I have no desire to go out and get something to eat and the mere sight of any food is making me nauseous. This is the last stage of food poisoning, I guess. And I can't imagine wanting to go out to eat again, anywhere for a while.

Would you?

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