July 19, 2013

Things are getting better

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OK, finally, I know a bit. Let me precede this by saying: the investigation continues and is not complete. We don’t have any conclusions about anything.

We had a big meeting with the state inspectors today. It isn’t that satisfying, but at least we know a bit more. Now I just have to remember what they said. I’ve been up since 3am today and I’m running on fumes.

First, the state officials have really impressed us all. This past week was excruciating. We had no info. We didn’t know what was going on. And I’ll be honest, at times we thought things weren’t moving as quickly as we’d have liked. But it’s very clear they’re all working really hard and take their jobs very seriously. I’ve had these moments in town hearings too where I’m really impressed with the folks in front of me.

The truth is that we still don’t know as much as I’d like to know.

  • There have been no new cases in the past 3 weeks. The Globe is just wrong about reporting confirmed cases in July, unless they know something the epidemiologists don’t. One thing that is confusing is that Salmonella is actually sort of common. The state has very precise tools to track specific kinds of salmonella. Not just Serotypes, but other identifying markers that tell them what they’re dealing with. The dates remain the same as they were. That’s good news. Doesn’t mean there couldn’t be more cases confirmed, but we’re happy there aren’t a bunch more folks suffering from Salmonella out there.
  • There are now more cases confirmed to have eaten at Clover. That number is now all 12, not 6 as it was before. Remember, they ate other places as well. We’re not the only restaurant. But we’re obviously taking this seriously and concerned.
  • All of our food samples have tested negative so far. That’s not to say there will not be a positive, but so far testing is negative.
  • All environmental samples are also negative. That means nothing has been identified in our kitchen or dishwashing environment.
  • We have 2 employees who have been identified to have Salmonella. LET ME STRESS (‘lest there are some Globe reporters reading this) BECAUSE AN EMPLOYEE TESTED POSITIVE DOES NOT MEAN THEY WERE THE SOURCE. This is a very sensitive issue. I had to talk to one of my employees about this earlier today, and I’ll tell you the same thing I told her: (a) nobody is going to learn her name, this is a private thing. (b) We are not testing to assign blame. (c) We can’t wait to get her back, but we’re going to need to be sure she’s healthy, that means passing 2 screens clear. We’ll work with her on that. Since the last case happened 3 weeks ago, it’s unlikely that this employee, who currently has Salmonella, was the source. She may have got it from eating contaminated food, or may not have. We don’t know. Neither of the cases identified are symptomatic. That means they didn’t know they were sick. They felt fine. We didn’t know they were sick. Crazy, right? This is really sensitive stuff. Please respect our employee’s privacy.
  • One possible explanation is that we had contaminated food from a supplier (a 3 day cycle). This is likely as close as we’re going to get to an answer. It does not seem likely we’ll be able to definitively explain what happened.

But we will get to make sure our operations are safe. We’re going to aim to open Wednesday next week. There’s a lot to do to make that happen, but I think it’s a realistic goal and we’ve got a team that can get there.

Here’s what’s going to happen:

  • We’re getting 100% testing on all employees that handle food. By handle we’re talking broadly, including dishwashers, drivers, etc. Nobody will return to work until cleared.
  • All facilities have been sanitized thoroughly and will be re-inspected before opening
  • We are working with the state to become a wholesale facility. This is something we’ve wanted for a while. It will allow for some cool new systems that will give us better control of food safely. We can’t wait.
  • We’ve hired a food safety consultant who is helping us make everything better
  • We’re considering some cool changes like automatically logging temperature, using sanitizer in our produce washing water, using these special strips that allow you to instantly test a surface for bio-contaminants, etc. None of these are things that are required, but we think they will improve our operations as we grow.

Whew. We’re not there yet, but at least I can see the other side of this “Closed” sign. We’re planning a big return celebration. Stay tuned!

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