When I go out to eat, I almost never send my food back to the kitchen.
However, that said, twice in the recent past I have sent back an undercooked meal. Both times at upscale restaurants where you would hope the chef is paying close attention to the quality and safety of the food. Knowing what I know, I will not bring myself to eat risky food.
Working in food safety, I have been exposed to the horror stories that prevail when tainted food is served. We know that 3,000 Americans die every year from adulterated food. However, these deaths are entirely preventable. Fundamentally, food safety is really just the proper handling and preparation of the food we eat. There is no magic. No secret. You cook, clean, and store food correctly – that’s basically it.
If it’s so simple, why are 128,000 Americans hospitalized each year? Well, because people are not reliable. The chefs in these restaurants, or their staff, are either too busy or too lazy to temp food appropriately. Likewise, fruit producers are negligent about washing the E. coli off strawberries and the person making your burrito didn’t wash his hands. Disgusting right?
So, how do we trust but verify that our food is safe?
One approach is to make penalties for negligence extremely high, so we can rely on our government to go after businesses that sicken people. Legislators have put laws into effect that demand businesses take preemptive measures to mitigate risks.
Today, there are more and more big companies paying whopping settlements for violations against the sanitary and safe production, handling, transport, preparation, and holding of our food.
So, to answer the question posed a moment ago; how can we trust that our food is safe? On a commercial level we need both the “stick” of government regulatory compliance and enforcement coupled with the “carrot” of conscious capitalism.