July 18, 2013

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?

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