The reason restaurants don’t talk about this stuff

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I just read the Boston Globe story from today. But first I read the bostonglobe.com before the paywall version:

Clover restaurant’s lapses preceded outbreak

When a city inspector went to Clover restaurant in East Cambridge last Friday she found spoiled cauliflower, hummus and various salads coming back from food trucks at improper temperatures, and no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.

And the front page they ran online:

Clover restaurant’s lapses preceded outbreak

The Clover CEO acknowledged there were food safety practices with which they “could do a lot better.”

  • 7/16: Twelve are sickened by food poisoning at Clover
  • Clover’s March food inspection report (pdf)
  • Clover’s July food inspection report (pdf)

I’m not going to make this a long post. [sorry, I didn't intend to, but it's a little long now that I look at it]. But I wanted to make some quick comments. First, it’s clear to me that this is irrresponsible journalism. Why would I say that?

“Clover restaurant’s lapses preceded outbreak”

–What should have been said is that Clover, like all operating restaurants, has items that were identified, by inspectors, in previous inspections that were dealt with in the past. These past “lapses” have nothing to do with our current shut-down. They have nothing to do with concern about the current MA Salmonella outbreak (which by the way could have had nothing to do with our food or our operating practices, we just don’t know yet, no samples have come back).

“She found spoiled cauliflower, hummus, and various salads coming back from food trucks at improper temperatures, and no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.”

– Again, not factual. First, the “spoiled cauliflower” was an heirloom variety of cauliflower that came from a local organic farm. It wasn’t white, but it certainly wasn’t spoiled. And it wasn’t coming back from the trucks. It was in our walk-in fridge at the HUB. And it wasn’t prepared. Meaning it wasn’t ready to eat. As with all of our produce, it would have been inspected for spoilage before use.

There were items being loaded from truck to walk-in that were at improper temperatures. I think I talked about this in a previous post. It had to do with bad procedures regarding packing and unpacking. It had nothing to do with “spoiled” food, or food that we were serving customers.

Finally, it is factually incorrect that there was “no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.” This was simply not true. We as a company have 45% of all employees, that includes truck closers (folks who drive the trucks back to the HUB and unpack them), trained and certified as Serve-Safe Food Handlers (the certification recognized by the state).

The inspector was referring to the fact that the Person In Charge, a technical term in the food industry, was, in her interpretation, the manager of our restaurant up front. She thought he was physically too far from the activities in the back: unpacking trucks, washing dishes, and packing for the next day. Each of these activities had supervision. They just weren’t supervised by the manager in the front of the restaurant.

I think the inspector made some really good suggestions. For example, we should consider having somebody in the back that coordinates all of those activities, instead of leaders managing their own areas. But this is vastly different than “no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.” To be clear, there were supervisors working. There were no kitchen staff working. There was no food prep happening at all in the kitchen. It was a Friday night long after kitchen production had ended.

And, of course, the “Tweleve are sickened by food poisoning at Clover” is factually wrong, potentially damaging, and I think could be considered libel. To be clear. There are Salmonella cases in Boston. We’re concerned that we may have served food that led to some of those. WE DO NOT HAVE EVIDENCE that we did serve that food or that there is “food poisoning at Clover.” We know of 12 cases of Salmonella in this outbreak. Of those we know that 6 ate at Clover, as well as other restaurants, in their days leading up to illness.

I spent a good amount of time on the phone with this particular Globe reporter explaining all of this context yesterday. She had the facts. And instead of reporting the full context, or even strictly what the documents (health inspection reports) said, the Globe posted a misleading headline followed by misleading statements.

And you ask why restaurants wouldn’t want to talk about what’s going on? You ask why there is secrecy around this?

Oh, and above, that’s a picture of the Clover managers getting an update from me about this whole thing.

I have a suggestion for the Globe: what if we all try to use language and communication that help people get closer to the truth, not further from the truth. That’s what we’re trying to do here. And I think that’s what good journalism is about, right?

38 Responses to The reason restaurants don’t talk about this stuff

  1. Sidna 18 July, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Thanks for writing this. I also read the article in the Globe this morning and thought it to be irresponsible. (Hence jumping right to your site!)

    You don’t necessarily need to hear this from me, but stay strong, continue doing what you know is right and don’t let the Globe (or others) get you down. I’m sure this will make a fantastic case study after all of this is over and you – and the industry – will benefit in the long term. Be well.

  2. Suzanne 18 July, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Hi Clover, I’m so sorry this is going on for you. It’s despicable that the Globe would publish something like that and put a really nice small business in peril. You’re doing great with the communication – I’ve worked in restaurant kitchens and everything you said rings completely true. And I eat the chickpea fritter sandwich quite a bit and have never gotten sick. I hope all your employees are hanging in there – they work really hard and it’s not cool that they have to go through this. Good luck and I hope this all ends soon and you’re back out in the truck so I can get my sandwich and some french fries!

  3. TS 18 July, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    What about all the people who have CSAs? Ours was cancelled this week because the farm didn’t have people to staff a pick up or a location.

    You created a relationship with these farms and the people supporting them, and have not addressed that directly. I understand the concern to keep everyone safe, healthy etc. and I totally support that. And the transparency with which you are addressing everything is commendable. We (the group that helped create the largest CSA program in the country) rely on the food coming from our CSA, and we had to find an alternate option this week. And with the way things are looking, next week as well.

    If it is was a voluntary shut down, why not still open for CSA pick ups? It was a commitment you made to us and the farmers much like we made to our farmers – through better or worse.

  4. Jon 18 July, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Just read both your post and the Globe. One thing that I can’t seem to get clear is whether you voluntarily closed your locations/trucks OR the city closed you down.

    Can you shed some light.

    Thanks

  5. K.C. 18 July, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    I have to agree with Sidna. I know reading something like this, especially after going through the events of the last week and after taking the time to have a thoughtful, informed conversation with this reporter, must be incredibly frustrating. Your loyal customers, myself included, will stand by you because you stand by and for your customers. Thank you again for your transparency and forthrightness; I look forward to devouring a popover breakfast sandwich and a Speedwell coffee ASAP. :)

  6. ayr 18 July, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I tried my best to write about this last night. It’s complicated, and I know that’s not satisfying as an answer, but that’s the truth. Quick summary of facts:
    - State asked me Friday afternoon if I would consider closing voluntarily
    - Having only had 2 phone calls with them, and zero written information, I said “absolutely, I’d need something in writing and some information about the outbreak.” I literally had nothing at this point other than 2 phone calls, and thought it irresponsible to my 128 employees to shut down without knowing more. At this point we’d decided to take our breakfast sandwich off the menu because state officials had been telling me it might be an issue. Turns out it had nothing to do with anything. But this is where we were.
    - DPH told me to expect an inspector Monday morning, and that they’d like to begin an investigation. We said, yes, we’d look forward to that and want to do something in the meantime if we could.
    - The Cambridge inspector showed up at 1075 Cambridge St. Friday and asked us to shut down while she did an inspection. We did. She did inspection. The inspection asked us to remain closed (that location). She wrote up a list of violations, etc.
    - Still, no written information of any sort from the state at this point
    - We decided, in light of the Cambridge inspection, that there must be more, even though we still didn’t have information, and we should close all locations. This is without even the most simple information, number of cases, locations, food items, etc. To be clear, we knew almost nothing at this point. The 1075 facility was under a written order to remained closed for the investigation. The other locations were not.
    - Saturday morning I called the Cambridge inspector, and asked if we could get a reinspection to clear the facility at 1075. This is typically how this sort of thing works. They told me no. We were not closed for critical violations. We were closed so that the state investigation could proceed.
    - Saturday morning I called the state and asked them if we could address the Cambridge violations. It’s embarrassing for any restaurant owner to have a list of “critical violations.” They told me no. They told me that I WAS NOT SHUT DOWN BECAUSE OF FAILING AN INSPECTION I WAS SHUT DOWN BECAUSE THE STATE NEEDED OUR FACILITY CLOSED FOR THEIR SALMONELLA INVESTIGATION

    So to your question, what happened? We decided we’d shut down voluntarily with more info, we told the state so much. I even wrote a formal request by email. We got nothing. They inspected us and the city ordered us to shut down 1075 for the investigation. We decided to shut down all locations for the investigation.

  7. ayr 18 July, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    TS –

    While we’ve had a lot on our plate the past few days, we haven’t forgotten about the CSAs. It’s complicated, the state does not know whether CSAs could be a part of the outbreak, so we’re doing our best to help them with the investigation and not distribute CSAs. To be clear, there is no information telling us we should be concerned about the CSAs, but that’s how they’re impacted with the overall investigation.

    We’re not sure what to do to help everybody out. We’re expecting this to be resolved quickly, but know in the meantime you’re all having a tough time getting your veggies. Sorry about that!

  8. Sophia Chow 18 July, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    I am a huge Clover fan and the fact that you are so up front about the situation makes me 100% psyched to be the first in line at the South Station food truck when you reopen. Clover, you are fabulous and I miss your truck, hope you are back soon.

  9. Jessye 18 July, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Former Clover employee here. I used to work at the MIT truck, and health and safety were ALWAYS a priority. I’m rooting for you guys; it was great to be a part of working for such a wonderful business that actually cares about people, and I’m letting family and friends know that this article is extremely misleading. Hopefully this all gets cleared up soon.

    Hang in there!!

  10. Jessye 18 July, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    * by this article, I meant the on in the Globe, of course!

  11. BEW 18 July, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    It really sounds as if you’re doing a great job responding to this stressful and difficult situation. Whether or not the problem is directly connected to Clover food or staff, it’s clear that you are doing everything you can to ensure that your operations are as clean and sensible as possible, without compromising your commitment to fresh and local food. Your response is affirming; it validates the trust your customers have in you, and it clearly demonstrates your business principles. Keep it up! Don’t get discouraged or caught in the weeds of the negative stuff. I fully expect that your customers will to support you when you reopen.

  12. Jennifer 18 July, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    As a loyal Harvard Square customer I was so sorry to see you were closed, and even more sorry to hear of all that has been happening. I was just in there last week for a knife skills class and the kitchen looked very hygienic to me! I know Clover has high standards. I appreciate all that you do and your openness about the situation. Here’s hoping that you can get everything resolved quickly and open again soon.

  13. Josh 18 July, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    I really appreciate your transparency and full disclosure in the face of both the investigation and the Globe’s misrepresentation of the facts. Stay strong.

  14. Susan Holaday 18 July, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    Clover has done an excellent job as they have grown over the past few years and when I read this article, it raised suspicions for me that the reported was either not listening to their answers about these incidents or was merely careless in reporting them. It’s critical in situations such as this where a writer’s words can shape opinions of a restaurant or restaurants) to be extremely accurate, write down precisely what the answers are to questions and put them into context within the story. I get the impression a lot of errors may have been made on this one that could be detrimental to a restaurant group that has always done a consistently excellent job.

  15. Matthew 18 July, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Thank you for continuing to be transparent. The best response to the sort of bad speech the Globe is guilty of is even more good speech. Please stay out in front of this story on your blog and social media accounts. By communicating directly with your customers, bypassing the distortions of media-filter, you’re affirming our belief in your mission.

    If you feel like that may not be enough, have you considered a) a PR firm and b) if the story is defamatory, litigation?

  16. Dan MacIntyre 18 July, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    WHO CARES? You are just a food truck/ restaurant company-you aren’t saving the world! Stop acting like everyone’s lives have stopped because you all are shut down. Put this in perspective. Please.

  17. Gina 18 July, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    I’m a loyal Clover customer and am sad to hear about what you’re going through. I’m also grateful for the transparency.

    I think you are an excellent example of what true cooperative effort looks like. I will remain a loyal Clover customer and am eagerly awaiting your reopening. Hang tough!

  18. Dawn 18 July, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    We miss you Clover

  19. Finn 18 July, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    You guys know you have few supporters more ardent than me. That said, even I’m impressed with how stringently, in the course of dealing with this fiasco, you are adhering to the principles you constantly talk about.

    It’s easy to talk about your high standards when nobody is challenging them, but sticking to them when you’re under fire is a good bit less common. Fate has called your bluff here, but you’re walking the walk. Thanks for taking your customers — and yourselves — so seriously.

  20. ayr 18 July, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    We are saving the world. Small steps

  21. Miller 18 July, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    An idea for your movie event: contagion

  22. Mandy 19 July, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    We miss you, Clover!

    As a side note, the data gathered about the salmonella outbreak seems very imperfect. My boyfriend came down with a horrible case of food poisoning that left him incapacitated for a week and that we now believe was related to the larger salmonella outbreak.

    Despite two visits to his doctor, an emergency room visit, and a hospital visit, we realized that not ONE of these places tested him for salmonella or asked him what he had eaten or WHERE he had eaten. Hint: it wasn’t at Clover. It seems like the data set is incomplete and not all of the cases are being either recognized or properly interviewed.

    I feel horrible that your restaurant is implicated in an issue that is clearly much larger and widespread. I have enjoyed eating breakfast at Clover 2-4 times a week for the past year and hope I can resume this practice sometime soon.

  23. ayr 19 July, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    I think that’s funny.

    REMINDER TO EVERYBODY: There is currently no evidence that Clover was the cause of the current outbreak. We’re working with the State to investigate whether any contaminated food MAY have been served from Clover. I think this message has gotten a bit lost.

  24. ayr 19 July, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Thanks for taking the time to post this note Mandy. We don’t yet know much about this outbreak, as you point out. Doing our best with little information.

    Another issue that confuses this is that Salmonella often takes days to develop symptoms, 12-72 hours. So people often blame the place they just ate earlier that day, when in reality it could have been where they ate a couple days ago. This is all complicated stuff.

  25. Sue 19 July, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    I’ve never been to a Clover truck, restaurant or csa. However I did recently experience a severe case of food poisoning recently that had me sick for over a week. Similar to another commenter, my doctor did not test or report my illness to the DOH. WHen I went back to the store that sold the item (a seafood salad) they did not care that it had made a customer sick, even though it was clearly not good just 24 hours after purchase. (so how much more was sold to unsuspecting customers?)

    However after reading this, seeing your willingness to be open, and seeing how you care for your employees, I look forward to visiting when you open up again.

    And for those of you who have never worked in the food service industry, there will always be something on an inspection, things that may not be serious enough to close the food service. What is important is how seriously the food place takes it and if they work to correct going forward, and it sounds to me like Clover takes food safety very seriously.

    Best wishes going forward Clover and employees

  26. Scuba Owl 19 July, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Stay strong, and sue the Globe.

  27. summervillain 19 July, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    Ayr, I admire your stance on this and the brave (if maybe, in my opinion, a tiny bit ill-advised) transparency you’ve approached this issue with. In a lot of ways you remind me of Ian MacKaye, the legendarily uncompromising co-founder of Dischord Records. There are two thoughts I have about this reportage. The most important is that they aren’t used to someone communicating as honestly as you are. Their bias is that you are hiding something — that you are spinning the story the best you can without lying (much). Secondarily, a reality of the news business is that sensationalist reporting sells, and news is a product, and that mitigates strongly against stories where the message is “we don’t know anything yet.”
    I wish you all the best in this difficult time and look forward to many more Clover meals.

  28. ayr 19 July, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    S -

    Thanks for the note. I hope you’re not right about the ill advised bit. I have to think we’re all ready as a community to rise above the fear and BS and press and all that. I think we’re just at the very beginning, and the future always looks murky at the start.

  29. Brandon 20 July, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    Hey Ayr,

    Thanks for being so open and responding so quickly to my previous post.

    I feel bad about your treatment in the Boston Globe. I have to agree with you that both the investigative and editorial staff there are horribly sloppy, sometimes I think deliberately so in order to sell papers.

    I think you guys are doing absolutely the right things. This could have happened to any business. I am so impressed by the way you guys are handling this and by your being brave enough to be transparent and weight the opinions of both your customers and experts alike.

    I am going to make sure to be there for lunch on Wed. or whenever you reopen. Inman Sq. needs responsible businesses like yours and my wife and I will continue to support you guys and the amazing positive benefits you bring to our communities.

    Try to keep it in perspective you may have accidentally made some folks sick. That sucks terribly. But think about how many people’s lives you have made more healthy by providing a local grown healthy vegetarian food option sometimes in places where it’s the only option. The good far outweighs the bad here. And you’ll be a better stronger safer business as a result of this experience.

    Good luck and best wishes,
    B.

  30. Sue 20 July, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    I know in my case the transparency is how I learned about Clover, and why I will find a location near me when they open so I can try them out and support them.

  31. Jamie V 22 July, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    This was my first thought when you closed the stores: This to many, will be a PR disaster. I personally appreciate the diligence you are taking to “fix” the “situation”, but I knew that you were going to do more harm than good to the brand overall. I hope Clover will recover from this, but with the new suburban stores, there will be a lot of lost business (not mine, though).

  32. Anil 22 July, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    I have to be frank. This is a story from quite a while ago, but clover once used to offer free apples outside the MIT Medical location.

    I politely asked the food preparer whether the apples were washed, and I was astounded with her response; “I’m not sure, but I really believe some dirt is good for you”.

    Not the response you want when ordering food.

    Really good on offering free apples – not so sure on the preparation.

  33. ayr 22 July, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    Anil –

    I wasn’t there, but sounds like she was joking. They were free apples. We weren’t selling, or otherwise preparing them in any way.

  34. Sam 22 July, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    The response to Anil’s comment is a little disturbing, give the present circumstances. It makes no difference if the apples were free or not when it comes to a restaurants responsibility for their safety. Remind me not to eat the free fries and free coffee you plan to give away when you reopen.

    And even if she was joking, a food service worker should never joke about giving the public dirty food…free or otherwise.

  35. ayr 22 July, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Sam -

    Sorry if that sounded concerning. I didn’t mean to be flippant. Let me give a little context: Anil is talking about a while back. We used to give away apples from our supplier when they were in season. His name was Rosslyn Harris, and he was awesome. he grew the best apples I’ve ever had at Autumn Hill Orchard. Rosslyn used to come to the truck at MIT and talk to customers about his heirloom apples and how he helped birds migrate. It was really special.

    We would buy his apples for use in our compotes and muffins. We’d buy these wholesale, and of course we’d wash them properly etc.

    The apples at the truck we gave away for free for a while because we thought they were so delicious we wanted to share them with everybody. These were not sold as processed food items. They were raw, uncut apples, as you might buy at a farmer’s market, or you might find an inferior (unwashed) version for sale at Starbuck’s counter. There wasn’t anything wrong with the apples. We didn’t advertise them as anything different than what they were. They had nothing to do with this case we’re talking about here. I wouldn’t have coached any staff to answer a question indirectly. But I suspect, again, I wasn’t there, that the employee was joking. Perhaps not the best joke, but again, I wasn’t there. She may have said more.

    We haven’t given away apples for a long time.

  36. Anil 23 July, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    Thanks for the prompt and quick response Ayr. Giving away the apples for free were great – especially for us students!

    However, I have to disagree with the idea she was joking. There was no further conversation, and she never actually answered my initial question! I honestly think she was being serious.

    Good luck with the reopening!

  37. Kate 24 July, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    As much as I love vegetarian food, I have huge issues with Clover not compensating for their ‘working interviews’. When I was starting out, I worked at different food service establishments over the years and was fortunate to at least be compensated if I wasn’t the right match.

    Also, one huge major step towards improving food safety is giving employees sick pay. Make up hours are not the same.

  38. Libby 25 September, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    If she told me “I’m not sure, but I really believe some dirt is good for you”.I wouldn’t think she was joking, I’d think she was one of those people who believes unwashed vegetables with soil still on them are a vegan source of vitamin B12, as if animals aren’t how the B12 gets in the soil.

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