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Florida Restaurants Tops in Food Poisoning Outbreaks, Website Says

Jan 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
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Florida restaurants lead the country in food poisoning incidents, according to a new report by HealthInspections.com. But while Florida had more instances of restaurant food poisoning outbreaks than any other state, the Sunshine State was not alone at the top. California and Ohio placed second and third on Healthinspections.com’s food poisoning list, and the state of Minnesota led the nation in Norovirus cases that originated in restaurants.

According to website, Healthinspections.com was created to spotlight the important work of health inspectors and to give the public easier access to inspection reports for restaurants, hotels and other public facilities. For purposes of its survey, Healthinspections.com deemed a food poisoning incident an “outbreak” when two or more people became ill from eating the same item or eating at the same place. The numbers used by Healthinspections.com were based on data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  from 2005 – the most recent year available. According to that data, the top six states in the restaurant food poisoning rankings– Florida, California, Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Minnesota -- reported 264 outbreaks of food poisoning. Food poisoning from restaurants in those states made at least 2,000 people sick from bacteria such as E.coli, Norovirus, and Salmonella.

Florida was at the top of the food poisoning rankings, and according to Healthinspections.com, Florida restaurants were responsible for making more than 300 people sick in 77 separate outbreaks of food poisoning. Seafood and ethnic foods were the leading culprits for making Florida restaurant customers sick. Popular all-you-can-eat buffets where the third leading cause of food poisoning in Florida, and half of the outbreaks traced to buffets were cause by "ethnic buffets" according to the CDC.

The website’s review of health inspection reports also found that Orlando may have the dirtiest fast food chains in America. McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King – all the big names had problems in Orlando -- with KFC being the worst. According to Healthinspections.com, the average fast food chain in Orlando has been cited for 15 serious food code violations during recent inspections.

California and Ohio where a close second and third in restaurant-related food poisoning outbreaks. California restaurants and deli's were responsible for 62 outbreaks of food borne illness in 2005. In many instances, investigators could not pinpoint the exact food that made customers sick. But, in the cases where a cause was found, lettuce and raw vegetables were the most likely culprits in California, followed by seafood. Ohio had 38 restaurant food poisoning outbreaks in 2005, according to Healthinspections.com. Again, most of the Ohio restaurant outbreaks could not be pinpointed to a specific food. But salads, raw vegetables, and chicken were the cause in many of the cases.

While Minnesota ranked 6th overall in restaurant-related food poisoning incidents, the state held the number one spot when it came to norovirus outbreaks originating at restaurants, says Healthinspections.com. Norovirus causes a common type of "stomach flu," and it is often spread by contaminated people who fail to wash their hands. Minnesota had a total of 22 outbreaks of food poisoning in 2005. Of those, 14 were caused by Norovirus. And, in nearly all cases, a specific food was not pinpointed, suggesting that the virus was often spread by sick food workers who gave customers the virus by putting their contaminated hands on food, plates, knives and forks.

The Healthinspections.com survey is evidence that many restaurants are not taking adequate precautions to protect their customers from food poisoning. For that reason, diners should do what they can to protect themselves. Customers should read local health inspection reports to keep tabs on how their favorite restaurants are doing when it comes to safe food handling. When doing so, pay particular attention to what health inspectors find when it comes to hygiene and temperature violations. When dining out, customers should keep their eyes open, and leave a restaurant if they notice that employees are handling money and food without washing; if uniforms are dirty; if hats or hair nets aren't worn; or if restrooms aren't clean.

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