BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Outbreak Leads to Accessible Health Ratings For Restaurants

By Erin Delmore
Correspondent

“This was a very unfortunate incident and I’m deeply sorry this happened,” Chipotle President and CEO Steve Ells said.

Ells apologized to customers after 120 people contracted norovirus at one of the fast-casual chain’s Boston branches on the heels of an E. coli outbreak across nearly a dozen states in November sending profits, stocks, foot traffic and public opinion plummeting. The added attention to food safety has health officials in Hamilton delivering restaurants’ inspection grades to-go, on the internet accessible at home or on mobile devices.

“Just thought it was important for businesses to be held accountable and that the consumer had the ability to find out if the business was in compliance with the state code or local ordinances,” Jeff Plunkett, health officer for Hamilton Township, said.

The wake-up call? Hamilton Township’s own food safety crisis: four cases of Hepatitis A more than a year ago that were linked to a pizzeria that’s now closed.

“It certainly brought a lot of media attention to our community and now trying to piggyback on that, for lack of a better term, to make people more aware that the information is there and if they’re interested in finding it, it’s very easy to find it,” Plunkett said.

That’s not something you can say for every brick-and-mortar eatery. The black and white certificates with a “Satisfactory,” “Conditionally Satisfactory,” or “Unsatisfactory” grade are often tucked away behind counters and cash registers. Not so in Hamilton. An ordinance adopted last year requires all town restaurants to post their rating cards at the main entrance.

“It’s a very good idea,” said Mario Colella of Mario & Frank’s IV. “That way, everybody knows what’s safe to eat. I would like to know if I go someplace.”

Colella’s been in the restaurant business for 39 years and says safety is key. That means storing, cooking, and serving food at the right temperatures and making sure employees wash their hands. The first case of Hepatitis A at now-closed Rosa’s Pizzeria was linked to an employee.

“Something like that could happen to anybody, though. You never know if somebody’s sick. Yeah, that’s one reason why you’ve got to make sure when everybody comes in to work, everybody’s alright, and make sure it’s clean,” Colella said.

“I was sad that they had to close. I thought, if they had a problem with whoever worked there, they should just take care of the problem,” Hamilton resident Roberta Microutsicos said.

Food poisoning is most often contracted at restaurants. According to the CDC, nearly one in six Americans develops food poisoning each year. That’s a whopping 48 million people. Nearly 130,000 of whom are hospitalized. An average of 3,000 people nationally die from food borne diseases every year.

“Not only safety, it’s the cleanliness, the way you can see if the staff is clean, the way the food is prepared and how it comes out. It’s always number one for me,” resident Joseph Malagrino said.

Talk about taking the guesswork out of what’s for dinner.